UPPER MOUNT BETHEL TWP., Pa. - Ron Angle, the controversial land baron of Upper Mount Bethel Twp., Northampton Co., once again promised to start spreading hundreds of tons of sludge over farmland Monday night after a plan to launch a $50,000 a year program for farmers to plant cover crops died in a deadlock vote.
The 3 ½ hour meeting was dominated by lengthy dissertations from lawyers who cited legal arguments over state and federal powers and professors who referred to studies they said showed the dangers of exposure to sludge from human waste.
Angle has permission to spread sludge from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
No one but Angle argued the benefits of sludge.
At one point Angle seemed to indicate he'd drop his plans to spread sludge on land he rents to farmers if the township approved a two-year pilot program to enrich farm soil by planting what are called cover crops, which improve soil quality.
The township had planned to take $50,000 from its reserve fund to pay for the first year, and look for other funding sources in the second year, possibly through a tax increase.
But the plan died in a 2-2 vote, though it may be brought back for another vote at another meeting.
John Bermingham Jr. and Debra Bodine, both lawyers, proposed the township adopt a "Community Bill of Rights" that they said would "restore" the township's power to ban sludge.
The lawyers said the federal Clean Water Act allows local communities to impose more stringent rules and trumps state law, which bars municipalities like Upper Mount Bethel Township from regulating sludge.
Some residents and supervisors said they feared such a move could result in the township being dragged into a costly lawsuit.
While listening to a chorus of township residents rail against his plan to spread sludge, Angle said, "It's a comin'."
"I will spread it probably in the next five days," Angle said.
He said he had put it off twice and time was running out.
Angle, who has been a vortex of controversy over a lifetime in politics, argued it was the township, not him, that was to blame for the sludge trucks coming to town.
"You had another chance," Angle said, referring to the failed vote to bring cover crops to farmlands.
Some residents did not like the idea of a possible tax hike to pay for the program.
John Griffin said he thought the plan did not make any sense on its face.
"Farmers should know about growing ‘cover'," he said. "If they don't, they shouldn't be in the business."
Allentown, PA 18102