North / South America
Experts disagree over potential effects of quarry expansion
Aug, 07 2012
(Hazleton, Pa.) -- Water and sound issues were the main topics at a second hearing in Dorrance Township on a new conditional use application for a controversial quarry expansion project.
The four-hour-long hearing Tuesday night was highlighted by testimony from two hydrogeologists in disagreement over water issues at the Small Mountain Quarry.
Gerald Ahnell, a hydrogeologist from the Harrisburg area, testified on behalf of Pennsy Supply, owners of the Small Mountain Quarry, and the applicant of the conditional use permit needed for expansion of its operation from the north side to the south side of Small Mountain Road in Dorrance Township.
Ahnell presented himself as an expert witness based on his 35 years as a ground water consultant for underground mining landfill operations and hard rock quarries. In addition, he is a licensed geologist in Pennsylvania.
He testified his company was hired to look into the degree of impact the Small Mountain Quarry would have on the water quality and usage, how the quarry operation would impact the wetlands and a section of Balliet Run, and what effect the operation would have on water wells in and around the quarry property, which takes up about 180 acres of land.
Ahnell, under questioning by Pennsy Supply attorney George Asimos, testified that "due to a tight rock formation" discovered while monitoring a deep well that was installed in 2009 and based on his own knowledge, "there is not going to be an impact on a section of Balliet Run or the wetlands in question."
"The water use won't impact off-site water usage," Ahnell said.
When asked if there is adequate water, Ahnell replied, "They're are a couple of wells and its been adequate."
Attorney William Higgs, who represents some landowners opposing the quarry's expansion plans and about another six or seven homeowners living along the perimeter of the quarry operation, asked Ahnell about a water well that failed.
"One well failed in the wetland area because it kept sanding in," Ahnell said.
Ahnell also admitted there was some water leakage from the bedrock area to the wetlands but said that was normal.
Ahnell said his company used a piezometer, a device used to measure static liquid pressure in a system by measuring the height to which a column of the liquid rises against gravity.
"I was satisfied at what we did," he said. "There is no impact by mining on wetlands."
Higgs and Robert Hershey, a hydrogeologist with Meiser and Earl Inc. of State College representing the township supervisors, punched holes in Ahnell's testimony on how he reached conclusions regarding the lack of impact on water usage, quality and the wetlands.
Hershey called Ahnell out on testimony about the water table by noting the water table is higher than he testified to by 30 feet to 100 feet. He also questioned Ahnell's lack of data regarding water usage by the quarry.
Higgs questioned his data on surface water drainage and the leakage from the bedrock area of the south side of the property where much of the quarry will be mining.
Asimo tried to stop some of the line of questioning by Higgs and Hershey; however, Dorrance Township solicitor James Schneider, who was conducting the hearing, denied Asimo's objections and ruled in favor of the two men, saying the line of questioning was relevant.
Earlier, Jonathan Ferdinand, a vibration and noise specialist with Vibra-Tech of Hazleton, testified that his company collected data as part of a sound study in 2009 by measuring existing noise levels around the proposed project area. The study also collected data from trucks and noise they make while backing up at construction sites.
The test was done twice, once when the quarry wasn't operating and once when it was operating.
He concluded the project noise would not increase by 5 decibels or more and, depending on site distance from where the sounds were originating from, it might be even less or lower than usual.
A new study in 2012 also measured the noise levels with the plant operating at night.
"It had no influence on the sound levels and that he could not hear any higher noise levels from the existing noise levels," Ferdinand said.
These tests were conducted in the enclosed building where the smaller stone crusher operates. Ferdinand said a new enclosed building believed to be even more efficient than the old building will produce even lower levels of noise when the plant is running.
Ferdinand said strobe lights will be used instead of back-up warning sounds used by most construction vehicles.
Higgs asked how noisy the large and small stone crushers would be when the plant was fully operating.
Ferdinand said wind and distance were variables he could not measure but he didn't think the noise levels would go much higher.
The next scheduled hearing on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
By Tom Ragan
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