A plan for a controversial compost manufacturing facility in northern Northampton Co. squeaked by Monday night, after Upper Mount Bethel Township supervisors voted 3-2 to approve it, with a string of conditions.
The vote came after more than two hours of public testimony -- which concluded a hearing on the plan that stretched out over several months-- and another two hours of discussion among the supervisors before they took their final vote at about 11:10 p.m.
Supervisors Jerry Geake, Bob Battillo and Larry Hallett voted for the plan, while supervisors Judith Henckel and Bob Gerwig opposed it.
Geake had the most influence on the conditions attached to the plan.
He proposed 10 of them, and nine were accepted by the supervisors without modification -- including one that the facility not be visible from the Delaware River and most of River Road.
Supervisors modified his condition governing the facility's hours of operation, adding Saturday to the other times when the facility cannot deliver or accept sludge -- 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and Sunday and holidays.
Henckel said she voted no on the plan because it was "a risk too high to gamble on" in terms of the environmental impact to the township and its neighbors, while Gerwig said he believed the facility would create an odor that could not be confined to the property.
The supervisors decided against several proposed conditions. Tipping fees of $25 and $50 for each load accepted by the facility were voted down. So was a proposed $5,000-a-day penalty if the McGill facility violates one of the conditions for more than 24 hours, after its legality was called into question.
After the marathon session, McGill officials estimated ground-breaking for the 120,000-square foot enclosed facility along Marshfield Road will be in about 18 months and the facility would be operating about a year later. "I'm very pleased with the outcome," said McGill president Noel Lyons. Asked what he thought of the lengthy public hearing process and the hard feelings that they stirred up in some quarters, Lyons replied, "This is democracy. This is how it works."
Before the supervisors went to work, they heard from 17 of the almost
100 people who filled the Mount Bethel Volunteer Fire Co. hall. Those opposing the plan outnumbered those in favor by almost 3 to 1.
Some residents, including former Northampton County Council member Ron Angle, who said he once backed the facility plan, worried that the the township would become a dumping ground for waste from other municipalities and states. Others raised concerns about increased truck traffic and the potential the effect on the area's ecosystem.
One of the more dramatic moments came when Tom Nelson, president of the Pennsylvania Raptor & Wildlife Association, was at the podium talking about the claim that the compost manufacturing facility will generate 20 to 25 jobs and $80,000 in taxes. Nelson said the township will get about $5,000 of that tax money. "That's about 71 cents a resident," he said. "How about raising our taxes $1?" he taunted. "I'll leave mine here on the podium," he added, slapping down a dollar bill.
Nelson was also responsible for one of the evening's funniest moments.
He signed the name of his bald eagle, Colonel Morgan, next to his on the speaker's sign-up sheet, and as he began his presentation, Nelson explained he was denied permission to bring Colonel Morgan into the hall. That remark seemed to escape the township solicitor, who asked Nelson at the end of his comment, "Are we going to hear the colonel speak now?"