Planning, protection, and promises: Developer responds to pushback on proposed Bucks County quarry

Upper Tohickon Creek in Bucks County

Upper Tohickon Creek in Bucks County — the Upper Tohickon Creek watershed includes Springfield, Richland, Haycock, and East Rockhill. (Upper Tohickon Creek Watershed Association)

Promising noise protection, environmental reclamation and a commitment to work with residents, the developer of a proposed two-pit mining quarry in Upper Bucks County finished its presentation and offered the first of many responses during a third hearing before the Springfield Township Board of Supervisors on its conditional-use application.

The quarry would remove 500,000 tons of rock annually from a site located between Route 309 and the rural neighborhoods along Springfield Street, Salem Road and Mine Street, adjacent to the Upper Bucks Rail Trail. The proposal has been met with apparently unanimous pushback from local residents, who worry that the quarry will pollute their air, drive down their property values, and endanger the health of the Upper Tohickon Creek and surrounding wetlands.

However, the site is currently zoned for industrial use, which means that H&K Group, the developer, doesn’t have to convince residents to accept the plan. Rather, it must only demonstrate that the project itself fits within the zoning’s legal and technical specifications.

H&K’s project engineer, Scott Drumbore, has said the quarry would employ about 10 people, with truck traffic entering onto Springfield Street via Route 309. Surface mining and extraction would begin at the southern end of the plot, last about 16 to 20 years until mineral resources are depleted, and then move to the north. After mining, the site would be reclaimed by backfilling the pits with soil and rock material to support revegetation.

During the developer’s presentation, residents and the township supervisors expressed concern about quarry noise, increased truck traffic, and potential disruption or restriction of the Upper Bucks Rail Trail. They also pointed to more than two dozen violations at eight existing H&K quarries, records that one resident obtained through a request from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

But Drumbore said that he did not anticipate blast and quarry noises to exceed 85 to 90 decibels at the Springfield site itself, likening the sound to “a tractor truck driving next to you if you’re standing on the side of the road.” He also pointed to the company’s plans for berms, acoustic material fencing and increased tree buffers, which he said would dull the sound and control noise at the property line.

Residents and virtual participants at Tuesday night’s meeting were animated in expressing their doubts about the quarry’s environmental effects, despite H&K’s reassurances.

“
What are [the] effects of blasting on wetlands and the sensitive wildlife that live there?” a participant named Faith asked in the Zoom chat.

“
There will probably be no wildlife left once they start clearing the woodlands,” responded Deborah Pfeiffer via chat, “and with [the] volume of water they need, there will probably be no wetlands left either!
”

“
A quarry operation, in such close proximity to the Upper Bucks Rail Trail, is an irresponsible and abysmal idea,” Arianne added in the chat. “A quarry operation, at the proposed site, clearly presents risks to the public, including the proposed prohibition of the public’s use of the trail during blasting activities, the impairment of air quality from quarry activities (during recreational use of the trail in this area), increased truck traffic in the area of the trail, audible blasting affecting the scenic and aesthetic value of this area — the list goes on and on…”

Though truck traffic might be slightly increased, Drumbore argued, the neighboring asphalt plant was operating at production level “without a lot of room for expansion” and had no plans to expand due to the quarry’s output. And even though residents might prefer that the trail be more protected, he added with support from H&K attorney Joseph LaFlamme, the Upper Bucks Rail Trail is a trail and not a full-fledged park, thus qualifying for less protection.

The company attributed the list of past violations to explosives and “not following proper procedure.” That procedure typically would include a series of pre-blasting surveys and assessment of neighbors’ property within 1,000 feet of the quarry site.

“We encourage people to participate in that process because it benefits them; it establishes a baseline for the property owner, [and] it establishes a baseline for the operator,” Drumbore said.

If there are neighbor complaints after a particular blast, the company will review the complaint, review the blast report and seismic readings to note any anomalies, examine the distance from the complaint to the blast itself, and look for any correlation. They can also consult with engineers to conduct a damage claim assessment via seismic data review, prior blast history, and blast calculations as well as damage projections.

“Our goal is to work one-on-one with residents and property owners adjacent to [the quarry], and work through their concerns,” LaFlamme added.

Another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. to allow for further examination of H&K’s plan, as well as testimony from potentially affected Springfield residents.

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