FAIRLESS HILLS >> A crowd numbering in the hundreds erupted into cheers Tuesday night as the Falls Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to deny a preliminary land development application from Elcon Recycling Services LLC.
After hearing from Elcon and the township’s professional staff for a little more than an hour, Supervisor Jeff Boraski motioned to reject the plan, bringing the audience to its feet. His motion was quickly seconded as a thunderous roar of support swept through Keller Hall at Pennsbury High School West.
The motion opened up a public comment session that lasted nearly 90 minutes as resident after resident from both sides of the Delaware River railed against siting a waste water treatment facility for hazardous liquid at the former USX industrial site in the southeastern corner of the township.
Falls resident Kathleen Bird delivered three large binders to the board of supervisors containing the signatures of close to 4,000 township residents and another close to 1,400 from residents living in nearby communities, not including online signatures.
Another attorney presented resolutions against the project from nearby Newtown Borough, Newtown Township and Upper Makefield.
Resolutions have also been passed and delivered to Falls Township by Yardley Borough, Morrisville Borough, Bristol Borough, Lower Makefield Township among others.
Erica Bradeis, a lifelong resident of Falls and a member of the Clean Air and Water Council, was among many who spoke against the project.
“My job is to protect my children and my family and I cannot agree with Elcon building this hazardous waste facility,” she said.
“The risk of traffic and trucks hauling hazardous waste to the site increases exposure of accidents that could impact my family and residents in a negative way,” she said. “I worry that a spill, fire or explosion could directly affect us.”
Elcon has been seeking land development approvals from the township to build a plant on a 32 acre site at 100 Dean Sievers Place in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. The site is zoned materials processing and manufacturing, which permits heavy industrial uses such as the plant Elcon wants to build.
In describing the project, Kim Freimuth, an attorney for Fox Rothschild representing Elcon, said the proposed plant would exclusively treat liquid waste streams from industrial operations such as pharmaceutical, petroleum, semiconductor and petrochemical.
When Freimuth said that up to 89 percent or more of the waste stream would be made up of water, the audience responded with skeptical laughter and loud groans prompting chairman Robert Harvie Jr. to gavel the meeting back to order and pledging to conduct the meeting in a “respectful manner.”
Freimuth told the supervisors that Elcon had voluntarily agreed that certain waste would not be accepted including radioactive waste, medical waste, oil and gas fracking waste, PCBs or cyanide containing waste, no dioxin impurement containing waste and no solid waste.
Freimuth said about 20 truckloads of waste water would be delivered to the site each day, describing in detail the process that would be used to transfer the liquid to the plant and the safeguards that are planned.
Freimuth told the board that “Elcon has committed voluntarily to make enhancements to the site that go well beyond state and federal regulations.”
Among them, Freimuth said Elcon has performed spill monitoring to determine whether an accidental spill could impact drinking water supplies and the Delaware River. “The modeling that Elcon completed and submitted to DEP concluded there would be no impact on public water supplies from any of the hypothetical scenarios.”
Freimuth said Elcon has also taken significant protective measures to eliminate flood hazards, including the elevation of the site above the 100 year and 500 year floodplain.
The facility also would be designed to contain a barrier wall to further enhance spill protection and to protect against future floods, she said. “We believe that Elcon will be the most flood protected facility within the KIPC.”
According to Freimuth, a planned stormwater basin would contain an emergency shut off valve and is lined with an impermeable liner to prevent infiltration into the groundwater table.
Freimuth said Elcon has also agreed to pay for a full time inspector who would be hired by the township and stationed at the plant to serve as an impartial observer to ensure Elcon is complying with its permits and applicable regulations and the other commitments made beyond regulatory compliance.
In addition, Freimuth said Elcon has committed not to accept waste via railroad or barge and has agreed not to use South Pennsylvania Avenue in Morrisville to access the site.
According to Freimuth, the project would require no zoning relief or any waivers.
“Elcon believes it can comply with each of the outstanding review letters. Elcon has repeatedly asked for additional time to resubmit plans and to work with the township’s consultants,” Freimuth told the supervisors. “Nevertheless it is our understanding that the township intends to take action this evening and Elcon is fully prepared to comply with those letters. The only action Elcon would seek tonight is an action for approval of its plan,” she said to a chorus of boos from the audience.
Following Freimuth’s overview, the supervisors raised concerns over numerous parts of the plan, including not enough fire lanes for emergency vehicles, the lack of safe exit routes for workers in the event of an emergency and plans to truck in 70,000 cubic yards of soil fill to raise the footprint of the facility above the floodplain.
They also raised concern about the site itself with Supervisor Jeffry Dence, after looking at the plan, contending the site’s not big enough for what is needed and being proposed.
It’s a concern also raised by Boraski. “After reviewing the plans, I don’t think this site fits,” he said to loud applause. “To bring it into the 500 year floodplain you have to put in the retaining wall and you have to bring fill in and raise that site. That’s a concern of mine.”
After listening to the comments, Freimuth said Elcon is “happy to resubmit plans showing that we can comply. We’re not asking for you to make a decision tonight.”
“I don’t think your site fits in this space is my problem,” replied Dense, to another round of thunderous applause from the audience.
Freimuth responded, “We’d like, in good faith, to have the opportunity to provide responses, comments and plans. And we’re happy to show you that we can make this work.
“A plan of this nature for a site like this would not be pushed through the process this quickly,” said Freimuth. “Plans would go through numerous reviews and the parties would work together to address the comments.”
It was clear from the start this was not going to be Elcon’s night, from the capacity crowd that packed the auditorium against the project to the board of supervisors who appeared ready to cast their votes against the plan and to send a message to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which is currently reviewing the company’s permit application.
Robert Harvie, who chairs the board of supervisors, reminded residents there is a second phase to the project - Elcon’s permit application to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“DEP has yet to rule on this,” said Harvie. “They do not have to take our vote into account. We think it’s wise that they do.”
Elcon also has the right to appeal the supervisors’ land development decision to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.
John Brodowski, the deputy mayor of the city of Bordentown, New Jersey, said he hopes the company doesn’t do that.
“Respect the decision,” he told Elcon. “Let’s not drag this out in the courts. We are not going away and no matter what happens after tonight, respect the decision from the supervisors.”
As the meeting was winding down and the supervisors turned their attention to the balance of its agenda, Elcon’s attorney and engineers collected their paperwork and headed for the nearest exit.
“Bye, Bye Elcon,” one woman yelled out from the audience, capping off the latest in the Elcon saga.