The Wyoming County Planning Commission voted Wednesday night not to grant preliminary approval of a proposed transload silica sand facility in Tunkhannock Twp.
The body voted 4-2 not to allow the facility because commission member Richard Fitzsimmons said it violated the spirit of section 103 of the county’s subdivision and land ordinance (SALDO) which protects the health, safety and welfare of the community.
In a packed room of about 50 persons, around a dozen residents were given about three minutes each to speak to what they saw as problems with the facility first proposed last December by D&I Silica of Sheffield to be located at the intersection of Rt. 92 and Rt. 6 Bypass.
The silica sand would be shipped in by rail car to a 9-acre parcel near Bartron Supply where trucks could then be loaded to go out to gas well sites where sand is used in the fracking process.
The company was allowed to make a presentation after listening to the community’s concerns.
Barb Reel of Tunkhannock asked the planning body why in its right mind the business couldn’t find a less populated and less trafficked area in the county.
Sue Barziloski of Eaton Twp. said there were no guarantees about what would happen in case railroad cars caused crossing signals to malfunction and traffic went haywire less than a mile away.
“You’ve got to consider all aspects of what this will do to our area,” she said.
Borough resident Eileen Barziloski, who has asthma, said she worried about young children being robbed of clean air, but she also showed pictures of the site completely under water during the 2011 flood and asked for guarantees of how adding fill to make way for the proposed business would do anything more than back up to to neighboring municipalities.
Bob Barkley, president of the Tunkhannock Baseball Association worried about the unknown and how it affected the area’s children playing in Little League ball fields 500 yards south and 500 yards northeast.
He noted there was very little known about the long-term effects of silicosis on children.
Speaking directly at the commission members, he said, “I don’t think this is a risk you want to take.”
A woman in the audience asked if any of the planning commission members had thoroughly researched the proposed business.
County planner Nicole Wooten, who has no vote, said she had spent months studying the business to make sure all of the requirements of the county’s SALDO were met.
“Everything seems to be in order,” she said.
Fitzsimmons was the only commission member willing to speak up about research, and acknowledged he had indeed done that.
“It boils down to this,” he said. “It’s a matter of life.”
“In my mind, the risks to public health, safety and welfare are simply too high a price to pay by this community for the site selected for this facility” he said to a stunned audience that gave him an ovation.
Planning commission chair Walt Derhammer then turned to representatives of D&I to address the concerns raised over the past seven months since the project was brought before the planners last December.
Spokesman Bill Fohr said he had been part of 12 sites in Pennsylvania and the Wyoming County hearing process had been somewhat of a surprise for him.
”This is the first time I have actually encountered people fearful of what we do,” he said.
He brought out Bob Glenn of Johns Island, South Carolina, whom he identified as one of the nation’s foremost dust experts, who had been in the business for 34 years studying dust diseases and testifying before the federal Occupational Safety Health Administration.
Glenn had a PowerPoint that revealed concerns about occupational exposure, but not ambient exposures.
He said after several slides, “The scientific evidence does not indicate the public is at risk” (with this facility in Tunkhannock).
One audience member disputed some of his research from the 1990s and said she felt some of his studies were outdated.
Attorney Michael Klein said the company he represents had done everything possible to meet the municipal and Wyoming County requirements for a proposed land development.
“D&I has fully complied with every request made of it,” he said. “I really don’t know what more can be said.”
With that, Wooten agreed that she had all of the permits in hand, and chair Derhammer asked if there were a motion.
Tom Davis of Factoryville motioned for preliminary approval which was seconded by Glenn Shupp of Tunkhannock Twp.
They took a roll call vote with those two supporting, and Fitzsimmons, James Cappucci, Dale Brown and Marta Kovacs-Ruiz voting against.
The chairman did not vote, and both Jon Howard and Randy Ehrenzeller were absent.