Court Reverses Lower Milford Township Quarry Decision
By: Colin McEvoy - SPECIAL TO CEG
A state court has ruled against Lower Milford Township’s previous rejection of the development of a stone quarry in the township.
The township planning commission voted two years ago to reject plans by Geryville Materials Inc. for an 84.56-acre quarry on West Mill Hill Road.
But the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Aug. 13 ruled the township erred in its decision and ordered that the proposal eventually be approved.
The proposal is a scaled-down version of the quarry Geryville Materials originally sought to build, which would have used much of the entire 628.48-acre property owned by the Montgomery County, Pa., company.
The township rejected that proposal in 2009, and the Commonwealth Court upheld that decision in September 2012. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the matter, effectively rendering plans for the larger quarry dead.
But as Geryville Materials tried to fight that decision in court, it also proposed the 84.56-acre parcel as an alternative. The township unanimously rejected that proposal as well in October 2011 after holding 20 meetings between 2009 and 2011.
They based that decision primarily on expert testimony presented by the township, including geologists and wetlands experts who argued the proposed water infiltration system would be insufficient to manage water generated by the quarry.
Geryville representatives disputed that claim, and also argued the township’s zoning ordinance was pre-empted by state law, and that the state had exclusive authority to regulate the operation of noncoal surface mining.
A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed with Geryville’s argument and found that the township’s rejection of the plans were improper.
Stephen Harris, an attorney for Geryville Materials, said his client was pleased with the ruling.
“The Commonwealth Court adopted virtually all the arguments we had made,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to building a quarry in Lower Milford Township.”
David Backenstoe and Mark Cappuccio, attorneys for the township, were unavailable for comment. Cappuccio said he was not aware of the court ruling until he was informed by lehighvalleylive.com.
The Commonwealth Court also rejected another argument by the township: that the proposal was only a partial plan because it included just 84.56 acres of the 628.48-acre property.
In an opinion by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, the court said this proposal deals specifically with the 84.56 acres, and there is no evidence the quarry will be developed beyond that.
"At best, it has been shown that Geryville hopes to do something productive with the remaining 500-plus acres of land that it owns in the township," Leavitt wrote.
"... The township cites no authority for the view that a landowner’s hope to develop other land in the future requires the present submission of a detailed land development plan when no such plan exists," she wrote.
The township could appeal the matter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Township manager Ellen Koplin did not respond to a phone message for comment.
By ruling against the township, the Commonwealth Court sent the matter back to the Lehigh County courts, which had previously sided with the township planning commission.
The Commonwealth Court ordered that the Lehigh County courts remand that matter back to the planning commission for approval of the preliminary plan.
Records do not indicate when the planning commission will consider the matter, or how quickly Geryville Materials would proceed on a possible quarry.
Once the preliminary plan is approved, the company would still have to eventually seek final plan approval from the planning commission, Harris said.
(This article was republished with permission from Lehigh Valley Live.)