Berms, blasts, and… dino prints? Bucks quarry hearing continues cross-examination

The wetlands and woodlands of the Upper Tohickon Creek watershed are near the proposed quarry site in Springfield, Bucks County. (Courtesy pf the Upper Tohickon Watershed Association)

The wetlands and woodlands of the Upper Tohickon Creek watershed are near the proposed quarry site in Springfield, Bucks County. (Courtesy pf the Upper Tohickon Watershed Association)

The sixth hearing on a conditional-use application for a proposed surface mining quarry in Upper Bucks County brought continued cross-examination from community stakeholders and Springfield Township residents on everything from well replacement to dinosaur prints.

The range of questions indicated a variety of reasons for residents’ opposition — some that could surface in later arguments this year, and some that could simply go extinct.

The proposed project, a two-pit quarry that would extract 500,000 tons of stone annually from a site covering 196 acres of wetlands and forest, is led by local developer H&K Group. The plan has been met with widespread disapproval from residents, who worry about lost housing value and potential environmental harm. After all arguments, testimony and cross-examination conclude, it will be up to the Springfield Board of Supervisors to determine whether the project fits within the township’s legal and technical specifications.

Tuesday night’s hearing was conducted over Zoom, with township board members, H&K staff, and more than 40 local residents attending virtually. Cross-examination of H&K project engineer Scott Drumbore continued, with Clean Air Council attorney Alex Bomstein and Springfield residents Kyle Fliszar and Jonathan Vorchheimer questioning.

Over the course of the hearing, questions for Drumbore primarily concerned past H&K quarry agreements in locations like Naceville and Blooming Glen, as well as his approach to well replacement, residents’ complaints about noise and dust, and housing value studies in those locations. Additional concerns included the Springfield site’s overlap with Columbia Gas pipeline and PPL Electric power line rights of way, which would need to be negotiated in the future, and questions about the berms, buffers, and setbacks surrounding the site itself.

When asked about past violations to these agreements with regard to blasting, road maintenance, and water discharge, Drumbore responded, “Just about everybody in this industry has a compliance history … it’s how we deal with these issues, deal with the state, [and] improve upon our plans.”

When H&K receives notices of violation, he added, many of them are addressed with corrective action plans; some notices of violation result in monetary penalties. Fliszar said H&K had paid out over $100,000 in such penalties in the past three years, and asked Drumbore to confirm that. Drumbore did, saying the violations he could think of in the past three years would have exceeded that number.

Then there were more specific questions: Had H&K dealt with a significant number of noise complaints from blasting in the past? It had not — “I could count them on one hand,” Drumbore said.

If H&K blasts were to disrupt the Upper Bucks County Rail Trail, which runs adjacent to the proposed quarry site, would trail users be unable to use the trail? They would, but only for about 10 minutes at a time, Drumbore said.

Was it possible that the extraction of stone, projected to last 40 years, could last longer? Yes, technically — the 40-year timeline was an estimate, not a requirement, and “non-coal surface mining permits don’t have a specific end date, mainly because it’s very hard to estimate when that specific operation will end in the future,” Drumbore said.

Had H&K tested for asbestos in the quarry? Yes, in both north and south extraction areas, Drumbore said, with no findings of concern in the samples.

And perhaps most surprising: Had H&K done any investigation for natural historical artifacts — it had not, he said — and was Drumbore familiar with findings of dinosaur prints in the area? “Vaguely, and I’m not being cute, vaguely. I’ve heard of it, but haven’t gotten any specific information.”

Cross-examination of Drumbore by residents will continue at the next hearing, scheduled to take place virtually Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. — much sooner than usual, given an intensified schedule suggested by the township board members Tuesday night.

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