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Sludge Free UMBT, Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Commonwealth and Synagro

In a letter filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PA DEP”), Synagro MidAtlantic (“Synagro”), a biosolids management company, has withdrawn plans to dump sewage sludge on three farms located in Upper Mount Bethel Township, Northampton County, PA.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Sludge Free Upper Mt. Bethel (Sludge Free “UMBT”) have been challenging the proposal to dump sewage on the Potomac, Sunrise, and Stone Church Farms since the PADEP gave the proposal a green light in 2013.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Sludge Free UMBT and local residents challenged PADEP’s approval of the application of the sewage sludge on the farms because of concerns for ground water contamination, contamination of drinking water wells, polluted runoff entering the Allegheny Creek, damage to exceptional value wetlands and endangered species (blue-spotted salamanders – a PA designated endangered species), and asserted that the PA DEP did not give the Synagro proposal the hard look that Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and state regulations require.

Said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, of the most recent turn of events in the case, “Synagro’s withdrawal of its plan to dump sewage sludge and PA DEP’s declaration of its previous approval as null and void, is a clear concession by PADEP and Synagro that these sites and watersheds are not appropriate for sewage sludge dumping and that PADEP would not be able to defend its approval of the plan as being in compliance with the law. “

van Rossum explains further: “Through the discovery process and the reports of expert witnesses, we established what we had stated in the appeal, which is that these sites are not suitable for Class B biosolids. In its July 2015 decision allowing this appeal to proceed to trial, the Environmental Hearing Board recognized the validity of the issues we have been raising. Trial was scheduled to start the second week of January, 2016, and the parties were supposed to be preparing pre-trial filings for submittal within the month. The withdrawal now reflects that PADEP and Synagro have concluded that it was better to back down and abandon their plans than face trial. “

On December 23, 2013 the PA DEP issued site suitability determination letters that allowed Synagro to dump sewage sludge on the three farms located in Upper Mount Bethel, PA. The approval was quickly challenged before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.

On July 1, 2015 the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board rejected motions by PADEP and Synagro, to issue a partial summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial. The EHB found that there was “more than sufficient evidence to defeat summary judgment” and that “[t]he Appellants have clearly set forth specific facts in the record that show there is a genuine issue for a hearing.”