Dry Test Wells



      A confidential memo on a meeting among engineers and consultants involved in Hazleton’s river dredge project suggests that monitoring wells on the project site don’t meet state requirements. The memo, prepared by an engineer for the Department of Environmental Protection, paraphrases two consultants for Hazleton Creek Properties as saying that the wells were installed solely to meet the letter of the law. It also states that the consultants argued that no monitoring is needed at the site. The document states that DEP officials ordered the consultants to provide further documentation to back up their claim. But the two consultants mentioned, Mark McClellan of Evergreen Environmental and Craig Robertson of Groundwater Sciences, Inc., both of Harrisburg , said they never said anything like that. One termed the memo, “the uninformed opinion” of someone “not familiar with the project and (who) was never on site.” The memo, dated September 15, 2005, was authored by Alexander Zdzinski, a licensed geologist from the Department's Land Recycling and Waste Management Program. It was sent to Reno Ducceschi, the facilities supervisor of the same program. It is stamped “confidential,” however the Standard-Speaker obtained a copy of it. McClellan has produced documents which, at least to some degree, rebut what was stated in the memo. Another DEP official declined discussing the wording of the memo, but said the department did request more information about the monitoring plan, adding that McClellan has already submitted it. The memo itself has no direct impact on the project. But what was discussed as the meeting it purports to represent may. If DEP orders a major reworking of the groundwater monitoring system, it would drive the cost of the project up and could also conceivably delay it. The memo may also be cited during an appeal filed by the group SUFFER (Save Us From Future Environmental Risks), has filed an appeal based on several approvals granted the project. The appeal will be heard by the Environmental Hearing Board. John Wilmer, the attorney hired by the group, is also in possession of the memo the Standard-Speaker acquired The memo purports to be an account of a meeting on the above date between “representatives of the Department and consultants for Hazleton Creek Properties to discuss possible problem with the ground water monitoring system…”

      The HCP participants were McClellan and Robertson. DEP personnel at the meeting, according to the memo, were Bill Tomayko and Zdzinski of the Waste Management Program; Tom Thompson and Gary Olenick, of the Environmental Cleanup and Gary Greenfield of the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. Also involved, via speakerphone were Steve Socash and Ron Hassenger of DEP’s Harrisburg office. “Most of the monitoring wells that were marked as being part of the ground water monitoring system in the (Determination of Applicability) document for the site are currently dry,” the memo reads. “Most of these wells in fact never had any significant water in the first place…During the last round of sampling, one of the wells had enough water to sample, the other way dry. All of the other monitoring wells within the site are not now producing water and have evidently never produced water that could be sampled during their existence.” Elsewhere: “Craig Robertson said that it would be financially prohibitive to site monitoring wells into the mine pool immediately adjacent to the fill site to monitor ground water as it left the boundaries of the site.” And: “Mark McClellan replied that there is no place in the DOA document that they make the claim that these wells are an affective (sic) monitoring site. He said these wells were put in to satisfy a regulatory technicality required by the Department that the site must have monitoring wells. They are not claiming that it is an effective monitoring system – just that it satisfies the letter of the law…” “I never said anything like that and Craig never said anything like that,” McClellan said. “What you’re looking at is the uninformed opinion of management employee of the department who has never been to the site, and never even read the documents were filed in connection with it.” One document provided by McClellan, included pages 21-23 of the Surface Water/Groundwater Monitoring Plan submitted by him and Robertson as part of the DOA application. It states: “*Testing at a minimum of five location per day, for each day of placement… *All geotechnical testing results will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the daily compaction regime … and to make adjustments as necessary to achieve the required standards. *Additionally, all geotechnical testing results will be logged for the day and made part if the overall daily record of activities at the site…”

      Elsewhere: “A groundwater monitoring program for (the project site) has been prepared following consultation with technical personnel of the (Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation) and the (Land Recycling Program) from DEP’s Northeast Regional (Wilkes-Barre) office. This monitoring program includes wells in soil/coal wash/ fill, wells in the underlying bedrock that penetrate deep mine voids beneath the placement area and a sampling location at the Hazleton Shaft, which accesses the deep mine pool down gradient from the placement area.” It further states monitoring will come via seven wells and the shaft, and that the list includes five wells originally used in “site characterization…”

      The document states the site would be monitored for six months prior to placing the dredge/coal ash/cement or lime kiln mixture into the pits, during placement, and for five years following it. “That’s what DEP requires and that’s what our plans show we will do,” McClellan said. “Now, during discussion, Alex (Zdzinski) raised some question about our long-term monitoring plan. So we submitted additional material to answer those questions.” In a letter dated Aug. 29, on stationary from his firm addressed to Hassinger, McClellan provided a “comment-by-comment” response. In response to a comment about monitoring from Zdzinski, McClellan wrote: “On April 19, (McClellan) met with the Department’s selected professional geologists to select appropriate points for both ground water and surface water monitoring points. At that meeting, DEP agreed that there was only one existing point where there is a defined surface discharge from the property. At DEP’s direction, this location was identified as a surface water monitoring point for both the background monitoring and subsequent quarterly monitoring… Subsequently on May 12, 2005, the identified DEP representatives performed an on-site visit to confirm and approve the locations in the field... The applicant believes that DEP’s selected geologist who approved the Baseline Environmental Report for the site has concurred that these are adequate monitoring points for the project.” Elsewhere, Zdzinski wrote, “The proposed groundwater monitoring system may not be adequate the detect contamination from all of the proposed placement area.” In response, McClellan said he “strong disagree(ed),” adding, “The Department through the Act 2 program has already confirmed that the Act 2 site investigations have fully characterized the site including the site geology and hydrology as documented by the Department’s approval of the Baseline Environmental Report on Jan. 7, 2005.” “Further, the Department’s selected geologist (Olenick) who approved the BER report personally approved the proposed number and locations of the required groundwater and surface water monitoring points…and subsequently approved the location of the two required new wells…”

      “The BER also documented and DEP concurred that all groundwater flow from this site is directly downward until it reaches the mine pool at 600 feet below the surface and flows to the Hazleton Shaft,” McClellan continued. “Therefore, with DEP’s approval, in April 2005, the Hazleton Shaft was selected as the only necessary down gradient groundwater monitoring point since all groundwater from the placement area will flow to this shaft.” That “comment-by-comment response,” however, was filed before the meeting mentioned in the memo. “So Alex showed up and started asking questions,” McClellan said. “But he never read the initial applications or our answer to the questions he raised.” Zdzinski referred comments about the memo to other DEP personnel. Mark Carmon from the Wilkes-Barre office said that in light of the appeal filed to the general permit (meaning it was, in effect, in litigation), he couldn’t discuss the wording or details about the memo – adding he expected its wording to be part of the appeal. However, he was complimentary about Zdzinski. “Alex is an excellent geologist,” Carmen said. “He doesn’t have a slant or a bias. He looks at the science. And he has always handled himself in a professional manner.” “Look, this is our job – to find holes in things,” Carmen said. “There is always a give and take. We have never received a ‘perfect’ application – there is always an inadequacy here or there. So, we return the application with comments asking for more information and then we review what we get back. In this case, that we asked for a revised plan is indicative of the fact that there were short-comings in the original. But that’s normal.” “What may be the source of problem is the applicants submitted what was called Groundwater Pathway Assessment for Act 2,” Carmen said. “That was submitted before they were discussing dredge and before the general permit (for dredge use) was issued. That GPS was fine as long as the project was under the Land Recycling Program.” The dredge project, however, is not under its auspices. “Still, a lot of what they submitted is applicable, but it’s not a groundwater monitoring plan,” Carmen added. “We were looking for all the parts and pieces to make this a ground water monitoring plan. This is perfectly good for Act Two. But needed more information – that’s what it boils down to. They have submitted more information and it is now under review.” “You have to understand, every action we take – to issue or deny – is appealed,” Carmen continued. “The decisions we make have to be the best we can make them using the regulations and statues available to us, so we can defend it being objective.” “If we’ve got both sides mad, we’ve done our jobs.”

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