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Bushkill Creek Protection, Northampton County, PA

High Quality, Cold Water Fishery

The Bushkill Creek is a High Quality, Cold Water Fishery in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. It is a prized wild trout stream, fished and enjoyed by many, spanning several boroughs, townships and communities, flowing into the Delaware River at Easton. As a stream that is protected under Pennsylvania’s Special Protection Waters program, it is protected by regulation against degradation and its existing use as a Fishery is required to be preserved. Substantial evidence, gathered over several years by various agencies and experts, shows that the Stockertown Quarry (the Quarry) owned and operated by Hercules Cement, doing business as Buzzi Unicem USA, is contributing the repeated dewatering and pollution of the Bushkill Creek and surrounding region, including the formation of sink holes in the creek that remove water that is diverted to the quarry. Reports are that adverse impacts occur in the Little Bushkill Creek and on land as well. The Quarry mines limestone.

The Quarry pumps approximately 55 million gallons of water per day from the Quarry into the Bushkill Creek to replace a portion of the lost water that has been uncontrollably diverted there by their mining activity, which has destabilized the hydrologic balance.

DRN believes that in the past twenty years there have been at least 15 events of pump failure resulting in the dewatering of the Bushkill Creek and significant fish deaths, including a severe event on June 5, 2020, killing approximately 2,000 fish and an unknown number of other aquatic species. This event lasted for 15 hours, causing a significant fish kill, including the death of wild brown trout. This is a grievous loss, especially because these are wild reproducing brown trout, not stocked trout, and these fish and the ecosystem they require to thrive is gravely harmed by these events. The last such event occurred on October 15, 2020. Hercules/Buzzi Unicem does not have backup systems in place to operate the pumps when there is an outage or, in the case of October 15, a planned maintenance operation. There is no excuse for his, yet it has been occurring for years and many fish and aquatic species have been lost.

Notification of a Citizen Suit 

Notification of a Citizen Suit was mailed by Delaware Riverkeeper Network to Hercules Cement/Buzzi Unicem on November 6, 2020. This letter served as a pre-suit 60-day notification for a Citizens’ Suit on behalf of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, its members, and Maya van Rossum in her role as the Delaware Riverkeeper (collectively “DRN”). DRN is demanding that the situation be remedied so that no more dewatering events occur as a result of the Quarry’s mining operation or the quarry operations should be shut down. DRN is prepared to file suit under the Clean Streams Law and the Non-Coal Surface Mining Act, and is also willing to engage in discussions with Hercules Cement should they wish to prevent further harms to the environment and the community that relies upon it. See the Notification letter and other supporting materials below.

Right to Know Requests 

DRN continued to file Right to Know requests with PADEP to discover what the plans are for addressing the issue. Through file reviews and other research it was made clear that the quarry was considering installing generators to back up the electric system that operates the pumps from the quarry into the creek. These generators would prevent the pumping from stopping in case electric power was lost, as in the 2020 storm that caused a 15-hour outage.  But the cost was considered too high by the company. DRN, members of the public, and local partners at Trout Unlimited advocated for backup generators to be installed.

The quarry also was in the process of securing permission from PADEP to deepen the quarry, expanding their operations. There is tremendous community concern over the effects that would have on the stream. The Bushkill Creek is pulled into the quarry through sinkholes that have developed over the years due to the mining operations, disrupting the natural flow of the stream and the aquifer.

June 2, 2021 PADEP held a virtual Public Hearing on the request by Hercules/Buzzi Unicem to expand quarry operations. The hearing was outside of the public comment period for the permitting since the quarry had already been given the approval but DEP said they were considering adding “new conditions” to the permit.

The Hearing was held to collect public input. DRN issued this action alert, which explains the issues that were most pertinent for the Hearing:

This Hearing pertains to Hercules Cement Company, LP d/b/a Buzzi Unicem USA, Stockertown Quarry, Upper Nazareth Township & Palmer Township, Northampton County.

Hercules Cement has prior approval to deepen its excavation of rock at their quarry by 50 feet to mean sea level. However, PADEP is considering new conditions to be placed on their permit: “The DEP will evaluate that testimony and determine at a later date if the recommendations mentioned can be added as conditions to a permit.”

Many who know, love, and fish the Bushkill Creek have been appalled at the fish kills and sink holes in the creek adjacent to the quarry.

  • Due to the impact of the quarry operations, it has to pump water from the quarry back into the stream at the dizzying rate of 50- 65 million gallons of water every day. That’s 6 times the amount that all of Easton uses in a day!
  • The quarry has had pump failures 15 times since 2002 that have resulted in dewatering the creek, killing fish and aquatic life. The electric pump failures are more frequent in recent years yet they refuse to install back up generation.
  • In June 2020, the quarry’s pump shut down for 15 hours, killing over 2,000 fish including wild brown troutThe area of creek that was dewatered is home to a Class A Wild Trout Fishery.
  • What is all this water pumping doing to the aquifers and the creek?
  • How could it not be contributing to the plethora of sinkholes in the adjacent Bushkill where water is disappearing and seems to be sucked through the quarry walls to the pit?

Please join the Hearing and speak up for the Bushkill Creek and its tributaries, the fish and aquatic life that call it home, and the impacted communities who live here.

Trout Unlimited members presented organized testimony from many members of the local chapter – the Forks of the Delaware. Other members of the public spoke as well. DRN testified verbally at the Hearing and submitted written comment to PADEP. DRN’s comments are under Supporting Documents below. Hercules Cement Company, LP d/b/a Buzzi Unicem USA announced that they would be installing backup generators to prevent any future dewatering of the Bushkill and any fish kills.

Since then DEP has not made any pubic announcements or shared any new information about the plans to deepen the quarry.

On May 17 and 18, 2023 Hercules/Buzzi Unicem started to install the generators. Why they waited almost 2 years to install the generators is unknown. However, they chose a dry spell with little rainfall. The Bushkill Creek was dewatered and a fish kill and the loss of aquatic life occurred on the second day of installation operations (May 18) because of the company’s actions. This latest catastrophe is documented as a catastrophic pollution event that DRN responded to starting when we were notified on May 18. The letter documenting the event, which recounts DRN’s report to PADEP and PA Fish and Boat Commission, is posted below under Supporting Documents. DRN is advocating that action be taken by PADEP and the Fish and Boat Commission immediately to ensure no further dewatering or fish kill events occur, that reparations be made by the company, and that the quarry not be allowed to expand its operations, based on its inability to manage their operations without harming the creek and its inhabitants. Trout Unlimited members of the Forks of the Delaware Chapter who were at the creek as a result of the notification of an planned outage to install the generators, responded swiftly and with dedication to the dewatering event and fish kill, trying to save fish and documenting with photographs and a location map what occurred. This evidence was included in DRN’s letter to the agencies.  Copies of the photographs and location map and copies of the USGS gauge graphs are included in the letter.

DRN has engaged a geologist who is a karst expert to assist in the review of technical reports and proposed permits related to the Hercules Cement Company/Buzzi Unicem mining operation. The quarry is planning to expand by increasing the depth of their mining and the environmental impacts of that expansion are of great concern, as are the ongoing effects of mining operations there, alongside the Bushkill Creek. PADEP has not announced any final action on the permitting or conditions for the permits to expand the mining operations as of January 2024.