Smooth-On, Inc. - a company that helps puts magic into the movies - has won smooth approval to move its manufacturing plant to Lower Macungie Township.
By the end of this year, Smooth-On plans to completely move its current operation in Williams Township, Northampton County, to the former Day-Timer property along Lower Macungie Road in the village of East Texas.
On Tuesday night, Lower Macungie's zoning hearing board gave Smooth-On the approval it needed, by agreeing to a change from one non-conforming manufacturing use to another in an area of the township that is zoned suburban residential.
The main witness testifying before the zoning board was Trey Bianco, owner and president of Smooth-On since 1989.
Smooth-On, explained Bianco, makes liquid rubber and liquid plastic compounds.
"We take chemicals from various vendors around the world and blend them in large kettles."
He said Smooth-On's products are sold to artists all over the world for a myriad of applications -- "primarily for anybody that wants to make a mold of something and then make a casting of something."
Only a few township residents attended the hearing to ask questions or offer opinions about the plan -- surprising for a plant that will handle hazardous chemicals.
Resident Donald Richards expressed skepticism about the safety of those chemicals and suggested it might be prudent for the township "to engage an environmental safety consultant to do some kind of rudimentary risk assessment" of the company.
"I certainly recognize the appeal of having a company like this move into the area," said Richards. "I don't want to come across as being negative. I'm just trying to raise a bit of a 'do-diligence' flag."
Bianco said the Lower Macungie Township Fire Department has been given a complete list of all chemicals used by Smooth-On --- "for emergency purposes." He said that list is proprietary company information, not given out to the public.
In response to a question from resident Tom Hess, Bianco acknowledged the new plant will be a "large quantity hazardous waste generator." He said the bulk of hazardous waste is created when its kettles are cleaned.
Bianco explained the plant will have more than one million gallons of liquid. "Sixteen thousand gallons are under some form of hazard - 1.6 percent of that million gallons. It's a very, very small percentage."
Bianco estimated about 15 percent of chemicals arriving at the plant, and about three percent leaving it, will be hazardous. He explained some chemicals no longer are hazardous when combined with others during production.
When Atty. James Preston, Bianco's lawyer, asked about the new plant producing "noise, smoke, dust, fumes, vapors, gases, those types of things," the Smooth-On owner replied: "There is none." He maintained not even visible steam will come from the plant.
Bianco told Preston his company has had no catastrophes or even incidents the public should be concerned about.
Resident Peter Ryan, who lives near the plant site, called Smooth-On "a terrific addition to the township. Whenever we can welcome a business such as this -- that has the potential to grow and be a part of the community, offering a better tax base -- I just think it's a terrific thing."
Township officials support plant
On Jan. 14, the township planning commission "strongly" supported Smooth-On's request for zoning approval, but specified what products it can manufacture.
On Jan. 16, Lower Macungie commissioners unanimously passed a motion "in full support" of the zoning board granting the relief requested by Smooth-On.
Nearby residents were notified of the case and the public zoning meeting was advertised.
Bianco said he also sent a letters to all neighbors who received notices about his company's appearance before the zoning board "to anticipate any questions they might have."
He testified Smooth-On did receive a number of phone calls from future neighbors regarding chemicals that will be used at the plant.
He invited interested residents to arrange to take a tour of Smooth-On's Williams Township plant "which is the best representation of what we're planning on doing in the new facility. All the equipment we have at our current facility we would like to move over to our new facility."
"We're an open door," he said. "We would welcome any visits."