Public hearing held on possible Oak Hall Quarry expansion

Andrew Sicree views a map of the quarry during a public hearing on the Oak Hall Quarry expansion application on Friday at Mount Nittany Middle School.
Andrew Sicree views a map of the quarry during a public hearing on the Oak Hall Quarry expansion application on Friday at Mount Nittany Middle School. psheehan@centredaily.com

About 120 people gathered to ask questions and voice their support or opposition to the Oak Hall Quarry depth expansion application at a public hearing Friday night at Mount Nittany Middle School.

Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania LLC has made an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection — Moshannon District Mining Office — to revise its surface mining permit and NPDES permit, according to a public legal notice. The permit revision includes a request to increase the depth of mining to 200 feet below the existing pit floor.

The limestone quarry is located on Boalsburg Road in College Township.

The public hearing consisted of a brief overview by representatives of Hanson Aggregates, a question-and-answer session with Hanson and DEP reps and time for formal public comments.

Of the 16 community members who went on the record with public comments, about three-quarters opposed deepening the quarry.

Andrew Gutshall, an area environmental manager for Hanson, said in support of the project the company developed a site specific hydrogeologic investigation plan, which includes a structural geology analysis and “extensive hydraulic testing of Spring Creek.”

All project information — along with the application — are available for public review at the Moshannon DEP office and the College Township Municipal Building, Gutshall said.

Some concerns from residents were about the possibility of sinkholes forming or Spring Creek’s flow becoming dependent on the quarry pump.

“The current depth of the mining is already below Spring Creek, and we have been and continue to discharge water through a permitted NPDES discharge into Spring Creek,” said Mark Kendrick, vice president and general manager for Hanson’s eastern and central Pennsylvania region.

Scott Kroczynski said he’s concerned that water from the creek will end up in the mine, and it will have an adverse effect on the stream.

He reminded the DEP that its mission is in its name — to protect the environment — and urged DEP representatives to keep their mission in mind when making their decision.

Spring Creek has the highest population of trout of any stream in Pennsylvania, said Robert Vierck, president of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

He said the group, which has more than 500 members, is concerned that deepening the quarry will increase the probability that water from the creek could be lost and endanger aquatic life downstream.

On the other side, Tom Palchak, of College Township, called Hanson and its employees “excellent stewards of the stream” and “good neighbors.”

“I think it’s very unfortunate that many in this room view the quarry in a negative manner, as if quarry mining is a problem,” he said.

Limestone is a natural filter, not a source of pollution, Palchak said, adding that a major source of pollution to Spring Creek is actually agricultural runoff.

Andrew Sicree, a professional mineralogist who teaches several subjects at St. Francis University and Penn State, lives right down the street from the quarry.

Spring Creek was noted as being a top trout stream, he said, and that’s while the quarry has been operating next to it for 100 years.

In addition, “We need limestone,” Sicree said. It’s used in the concrete of basements, the asphalt in driveways and curbs and streets.

Other concerns cited by the public included blasting that has damaged homes.

Skip Dreibelbis’ family has lived near the quarry for almost 50 years.

The family has complained to Hanson about the blasting at the quarry, he said, and that seismic readings on their property have not been done correctly.

Dreibelbis said they’ve had an independent engineering study done that found that the quarry blasting has adversely affected their home.

Having hired an attorney, Dreibelbis encouraged others at the meeting to contact him if they’ve also had problems with the blasting.

The public record will be open for written comments through Friday, said Michael Smith, district mining manager at the Moshannon DEP office.

A decision from DEP on whether to approve or deny the application or request more information will be made within 60 days, Smith said.

Smith said the DEP takes the public’s comments seriously, but it’s a “technical” decision made based on facts and within department regulations.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz