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Opponents attempt to halt dredge use Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 April 2007

The use of dredge spoils in filling abandoned mine pits at Hazleton is the latest in a series of environmental insults hurled at the community stretching back through the era of underground anthracite coal mining, an attorney said in the opening minutes of a hearing in Harrisburg Monday. It’s an issue of environmental justice, attorney Michael Fiorentino told state Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard A. Labuskes in the opening minutes of arguments in a case brought by Citizen Advocates United to Safeguard the Environment, or CAUSE.
“Your honor, the people of Hazleton have always seemed to get dumped on,” Fiorentino, of the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center said in his opening remarks.
CAUSE is challenging the “determination of applicability” the state Department of Environmental Protection approved in allowing a developer to utilize spoils dredged from the Delaware River in filling abandoned mine pits on the city’s south side under a state general permit.
Another citizens’ group, Save Us from Future Environmental Risks, or SUFFER, is challenging the general permit itself but withdrew from the case Labuskes will decide when it ran out of funds to continue litigation.
Defendants in the case are the state, DEP, the Hazleton Redevelopment Authority and Hazleton Creek Partners, a subsidiary of Mark Development, of Kingston, and the developer of an amphitheater proposed for the property following its filling.
Fiorentino characterized the use of dredge spoils at Hazleton as a “giant experiment” in arguing that his client, CAUSE, has legal standing to pursue the matter. And he said DEP’s decision to grant a “determination of applicability,” or DOA, went against “massive public opinion” in the community.
The plaintiff’s attorney also noted that DEP never intended the general permit be used to cover the capping of old landfills. And he again argued that the agency is treating the site that’s bordered roughly by routes 309 and 924 and the old Route 924 as solely an abandoned mine when it should be considered a partially closed landfill. He said the site barely missed qualifying in the 1980s for placement on the federal Superfund list of toxic waste properties.
Fiorentino, in his opening statement, also said testimony will prove that the use of dredge spoils will end up polluting both surface and underground water supplies. The plaintiff’s attorney also argued that the Hazleton Redevelopment Agency is, in actuality, an arm of the city government.
Carolyn Martienssen and her husband, Charles, of West Hazleton, were the first to testify as the hearing got under way, each telling the judge that they have been on the site property 60 or more times through the last two years.
The couple lives on East Clay Avenue in the borough, only one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile from the property. Carolyn Martienssen, in responding to Fiorentino’s questioning, said she knew even before the filling project began that wastes, including electric capacitors and drums of waste, still littered sections of the property.
Liquid wastes were once dumped on the property from tankers, she testified.
She also recounted how the concerns she shares with her husband and others led them to form CAUSE, which has since been incorporated as a non-profit organization. And she and her spouse said they were present when the CAUSE board of directors, of which they are members, voted to pursue litigation.
She said she fears dust from the site will harm her health and she recounted how rats scurried toward Clay Avenue after the first hours of work on the site being filled with dredge spoils.
“Water. I’m worried about water,” she testified.
Carolyn Martienssen also said she consistently notices a “horrible odor” coming from the work site and dump trucks used to haul spoils to the site are constantly shedding bits of the material from their tires as they drive onto Route 309, or South Church Street, upon leaving the work zone.
“The smell is horrible,” she told Fiorentino from the witness chair.
The couple, under questioning from their attorney, said they were never told to leave the work site by anyone else present there and never walked past a no-trespassing sign.
Carolyn Martienssen also recounted seeing the rims of old waste drums “sticking out of the ground.” And she said the work that’s taken place since the DOA was awarded has changed the appearance of the property, making it hard or impossible to again spot capacitors or drums that might still be present.
“They’re still there,” she said. And a network of old roads that once ran over the property are gone, having been covered by the fill that’s trucked in daily from Fort Mifflin, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility in Philadelphia.
Shown a series of aerial photographs, Carolyn Martienssen pointed out various features, including the old Crystal Ridge landfill where two ponds remain, one of which often dries up.
“They’re dump trucks; big dump trucks” driven by crews from different hauling companies, she testified when asked how dredge spoils are being delivered to Hazleton.
Under cross examination by HCP attorney Michael Kline, the West Hazleton woman said she can partially see the work area from her house, but that her view would improve if a neighboring house were not in the way.
Carolyn Martienssen also noted, in responding to Kline’s questioning, that an odor coming from the scarred land was apparent well before the filling operation began.
Kline: “So there’s always been an odor?”
Carolyn Martienssen: “That’s correct.”
Kline, while questioning the woman, told the judge that HCP is objecting to CAUSE’s legal standing.
Charles Martienssen largely repeated his wife’s testimony in responding to Fiorentino’s questioning, telling the attorney that he began doing “a lot of research” regarding the contents of dredge spoils upon learning of the fill operation. And he said his fears of water and air pollution were worsened, not ameliorated, by DEP’s awarding of the DOA.
And he testified that there was no rodent problem until the rats were disturbed by the work and scurried of the property.
“Me personally, I’ve done a lot of legwork” in visiting the fill zone and recording personal observations of the land and what was on it before the work began, Charles Martienssen testified.
Kline, in cross examining Charles Martienssen, asked what precautions the man took while walking on what he believes is fill contaminated by toxins.
Did “you take any precautions to protect yourself?” the attorney asked the witness.
“No,” he responded. But when Fiorentino asked him to elaborate, Charles Martienssen said he did not handle any of the material.
Fiorentino and William Rinaldi, a developer and manager of HCP, sparred repeatedly as the man testified at length under questioning from the plaintiff’s attorney.
“I don’t recall,” Rinaldi responded to an early question from Fiorentino. And the witness repeatedly referred the attorney to documents provided to both sides during the discovery phase of the hearing.
Rinaldi, asked what his position is with a subsidiary he established to contract with haulers, said he wasn’t sure and that he doesn’t keep track of such details. A consultant, he said, would know the answers.
“My purpose was to reclaim abandoned mine lands and turn it into something,” he told Fiorentino. “I made commitments. I keep my commitments,” Rinaldi said at another juncture in this testimony. “I made a commitment with the town … with the Redevelopment Authority.”
Fiorentino showed a document he said purports to show that sewage sludge, also called biosolids, is under consideration as additional fill material. But Kline objected, and the judge ruled in the defense team’s favor, ruling that the document could not be introduced.
Rinaldi said he will only use fill state-approved fill material.
“I might take it from Alaska , whatever the state allows me to take,” he testified.
Fiorentino also questioned two members of DEP’s headquarters staff, Eugene W. Pine, licensed professional geologist of the agency’s division of municipal and residual waste, and Ronald Hassinger, chief of the agency’s general permits section.
Fiorentino questioned Pine at length about the groundwater monitoring wells while querying the other man about DEP’s review process.
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