HAZLETON, PA Wednesday, 04 April 2007
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Expert testifies at dredge hearing Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 April 2007

HARRISBURG — Groundwater under the Hazleton Redevelopment Authority’s site being filled with dredge spoils flows north, eventually entering the Jeddo Mine Tunnel system under the city or continuing into the Nescopeck Creek basin in the valley, a hydrogeologist testified here Tuesday. And any contaminants leaching out of the spoils that are trucked to Hazleton from Philadelphia would be transported in the same direction upon entering the groundwater pool, Penn State University professor Christopher Duffy said.
Duffy was paid by CAUSE, or Citizen Advocates United to Safeguard the Environment, to offer expert testimony during the second day of a hearing before state Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard A. Labuskes.
The hearing, which is expected to last through the middle of the month, will decide the fate of CAUSE’s challenge to a state Department of Environmental Protection “determination of applicability” that allows Hazleton Creek Partners and the Redevelopment Authority to use spoils from the Delaware River in filling abandoned mine pits.
Labuskes qualified Duffy as an expert regarding hydrogeological matters after hearing the witness describe his academic credentials and extensive background in conducting studies involving groundwater resources in Pennsylvania, Utah, New Mexico and elsewhere. And the witness said he was testifying for CAUSE, not in his role as a senior faculty member of Penn State’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.
Duffy then described the computer model he developed to delineate how groundwater flows from the site.
“I was amazed at how little had been done” previously to learn how the aquifer underlying the project site is recharged and the flow velocity, direction of flow and depth of the groundwater resource, Duffy said.
“Rather poorly done and not much of it,” Duffy said about previous groundwater studies at the site.
Duffy testified for more than seven hours, initially under questioning from CAUSE’s lawyer, Michael Fiorentino, and then cross-examination by Michael D. Klein, a Harrisburg attorney representing Hazleton Creek Partners.
He was the sole witness called to testify on CAUSE’s behalf. Fiorentino said he expects his portion of the case to take another five days, after which the defendants’ legal team will call on its own experts to rebut CAUSE’s arguments.
Duffy said he and his team used various sets of data, including material produced by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in a 1999 report on the Jeddo Tunnel, and Geographic Information Systems material maintained by DEP and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in developing their computer model focusing on groundwater flow characteristics.
The digitized study included delineating the surface flow and groundwater flow boundaries of the project site, he testified.
“The ultimate goal is to understand and study the groundwater flow,” Duffy said.
The professor noted how his study looked at the project site in terms of three subsurface layers, delineating how groundwater moves through each layer. Nearly all the project site is within the Susquehanna River Basin, while a tiny portion on its southernmost margin is in the Lehigh River’s watershed. And most of the groundwater at the site flows north. Some of the resource enters a sub-tunnel of the Jeddo Tunnel system while much flows through permeable rock, eventually entering the aquifer under the Little Nescopeck and Nescopeck creeks.
Duffy said his work in developing and running the computer model included noting the location of the more than 500 private, corporate and municipal wells within the Nescopeck Creek watershed. “Roughly half” or 246 of the wells were used to calibrate the model, he testified.
“There’s no question” that groundwater under the project site flows northward, Duffy said. And any contaminants entering the groundwater would be carried along and “probably contaminate” wells to the north of the project site. And he said contaminants would move differently based on their weight relative to that of the water.
Duffy, in speaking with a reporter following his testimony, said he decided to testify on behalf of CAUSE because people, especially well owners, need to understand groundwater flow.
During his time on the stand, the professor was asked question after question related to various “figures” or diagrams contained in his final report to CAUSE.
Fiorentino’s questions to Duffy were frequently objected to by Klein, but the judge allowed the witness to answer most.
He also noted that during his one visit to the project site he found observation or monitoring wells to be in various states of disrepair. In one instance, a 500-foot tape measure was dropped into a well but yielded no results when it came up short of the bottom, he said.
He also said he noticed various drums and other “trash” on the site, some of the barrels appearing to be half-buried. He said a comprehensive monitoring system of the site’s groundwater resource would include a network of many observation wells to the north of the property.
Duffy also responded to criticism of his computer model and report contained in another report an expert produced for the defendants.
Under cross-examination by Klein, Duffy explained how groundwater divides differ from those of surface waterways. He said his study area encompassed about 300 square miles, but acknowledged that the project site comprises less than 1 percent of that area.
“All models have some uncertainty,” he told Klein, but he stood behind the study’s conclusions, telling the attorney that the work was the product of using state-of-the-art technology and the best sets of data available.
Klein led the professor through a lengthy series of questions related to the Black Creek, which is a tributary of Nescopeck Creek and which flows across the Hazleton plateau just to the north of the project site. And Duffy said there is no evidence of a groundwater “divide,” or stopping point for groundwater flow at the Little Nescopeck Creek, which is the receiving stream for water flowing out of the Jeddo Tunnel.
The tunnel’s outfall is in Butler Township and the Little Nescopeck flows through Conyngham before entering the Nescopeck just east of Route 93 in Sugarloaf Township. Black Creek enters the Nescopeck in the township of the same name, the combined stream finally flowing into the Susquehanna River at Nescopeck borough.
The judge approved a motion from Klein ordering Duffy to produce, as soon as possible, a map detailing groundwater contour lines and showing the depth of each line.
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