Property owners in Whitehall Township got what they wanted Monday night -- a 2013 budget with no tax hikes or fee increases -- but the owner of a plastics recycling company was told he will have to wait at least another month before commissioners decide whether to let him move in.
The commissioners spent only a few minutes adopting the $19.6 million budget proposed by Mayor Ed Hozza. It's the first time since 2010 that property taxes did not rise, even though expenditures are about 4 percent higher than this year's $18.9 million budget.
There was little comment from the commissioners and none from the public on the budget.
That was hardly the case during the second installment of a public hearing on a request from National Plastics & Manufacturing to relocate from Palmer Township in Northampton County and to a space it would lease 40,000 square feet in a building at 1139 Lehigh Ave. in Whitehall.
Commissioners first tabled the conditional use plan on Nov. 12, after questions about fire safety and odor problems were raised. Monday night, after three more hours of testimony from experts and questions from the commissioners and residents who would be National Plastics' neighbors, the plan was tabled again, this time until the commissioners' workshop meeting on Jan. 7.
Some outlines of a possible agreement to approve the plan began to emerge Monday night.
National Plastics president Munish Suri told commissioners he would agree not to process PVC in any form at the plant. Commissioners began pressing Suri about PVC after one of the opponents of the National Plastics plan, Heather Hertzog, of 1110 Lehigh Ave., said Suri's company recycles PVC, which produces dioxins that can cause cancer and fertility problems.
Questions about fire safety also seem closer to being resolved, although at least two commissioners said they had trouble believing Suri's claims because they didn't think he was truthful with them last month when he neglected to tell them about a fire on July 15, 2011, at National Plastics' Palmer plant. That fire sent thick clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky and took firefighters more than six hours to extinguish.
At the commissioners' request, Suri presented a battery of experts Monday night to explain how a new sprinkler system would take care of any concerns about fire safety. One of them, Charles Young, owner of Alert Fire Protection, Chester Springs, Chester Co., said two new types of sprinkler heads would be installed in the space National Plastics wants to lease. This new technology would spray "large quantities" of water on a fire, and the fire department would be needed "only in a mop-up capacity."
Suri assured commissioners and township residents he has taken other steps to insure against another fire, including terminating the person responsible for starting the 2011 blaze; limiting the number of people who can do the burn test that led to the fire; and moving the burn testing indoors and limiting it to a small area. (Burn tests, which Suri said are done once or twice a week, help determine the kind of recycling to be done on a piece of plastic.)
At the beginning of the hearing, Suri showed a seven-minute video he put together at the request of the commissioners to help them understand how plastic for recycling is shipped, handled, stored and processed. Many of the residents were unimpressed, including James C.
Cole, of 15 Franklin St., who said bluntly, "It didn't show me a hell of a lot."
Suri said that each month, the Whitehall facility would produce about
1 million to 1.5 million pounds of flakes, pellets and bales of plastic and be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. five days a week. Shipping would be done from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with up to five tractor trailers coming and going each day.
Several residents said they were concerned about the dust produced by the plastic recycling process. Suri said about 2 percent of the plastic put into grinders becomes dust, but most of it is collected at the grinding site, except for "a pound or two" at the end of each eight-hour shift. To keep the dust from spreading, "the area is swept and cleaned before and after each shift," Suri noted.
Suri's explanation did calm the fears of Angel Zaiter, of 1114 Lehigh Ave., who said, "A little dust every day is a lot." Or Shar Abrahim, of 1116 Lehigh Ave., "Dust is gonna leak out somewhere."