Quarries, sinkholes and cold hard cash were discussed by Whitehall Township officials Monday night.
The township wants to impose a fee on every dump truck load of sand being brought to a Whitehall quarry from New Jersey. The amount of such a fee has not yet been determined.
The township also may attach some financial strings to a Northampton Borough Municipal Authority (NBMA) request that it not have to pay a “degradation fee” generated by a sinkhole in Mickley Road.
Both issues were discussed at Monday night’s township workshop meeting and, while unrelated, both may require negotiations to resolve.
Whitehall officials intend to negotiate tipping fees with the Ciccone family, which owns two quarries on a property off West Coplay Road in the township.
The smaller of those quarries is being filled with sand being trucked in from the dredging of New Jersey’s Newark Bay.
That dredging is being done to keep the bay’s shipping lanes open, said Whitehall Mayor Ed Hozza.
“Whitehall is not the sole dumping ground for this material,” said the mayor, who explained the sand also is being trucked to three locations in New Jersey.
Hozza said the township has not yet approached the Ciccone family to begin those negotiations. “We have to bring in the owners of the property to have a discussion,” he told township commissioners.
Months ago, the mayor and his staff began noticing a number of tri-axle trucks bearing New Jersey plates coming into the township. He followed trucks to the quarry where Steve Kolbe, one of the quarry’s operators, told him the sand being dumped there was dredged after being pushed into Newark Bay by Hurricane Sandy.
“The trucks continue; it’s sporadic,” said the mayor. “Some days we’ll have 80 to 100 --other days, nothing.”
Hozza called it a dry quarry, meaning it has not filled with water like many old quarries in the area. He said the township never approved putting sand into that quarry but the state Department of Environmental Protection said the owners have a mining reclamation permit to do it.
Hozza said DEP has been called out several times because of odors emanating from the quarry. He said it smells like “bad lobster…dead fish.”
He said on a windy day Cementon’s nearby Home Park neighborhood gets the brunt of those odors.
Despite the smell, Hozza said Pennsylvania’s DEP considers the material clean fill. He said New Jersey’s DEP considers it contaminated sand.
He indicated if the material would be considered municipal site by DEP, there is no question the township could collect tipping fees.
Yet the mayor told commissioners Whitehall legally can charge tipping fees. He said other Pennsylvania townships have negotiated such fees with property owners involved in such operations.
One is East Norrriton Township in Montgomery County, which has entered into an agreement with another quarry owner to pay tipping fees. Hozza said the amount of those fees was negotiated between that township and the quarry owner.
He said in Northampton County’s Plainfield and Lower Saucon townships, which have landfills, tipping fees make up 30-40 percent of those townships’ annual operating budgets.
Hozza wants to put tipping fee revenue from the Whitehall quarry operators into a township escrow account that will be used for the eventual repair of West Coplay Road, Chestnut Street and Coplay Road “from the damage caused by the tri-axles.”
Phillip Ginder, vice president of the township commissioners, said he recently saw two trucks in a convoy of five and neither had any lettering on them, except for New Jersey license plates.
Hozza suggested residents should call the Whitehall police non-emergency phone number if they see tri-axle dump trucks without company names or state Public Utility Commission numbers on their doors, especially if they are bearing New Jersey plates.
He added state police can intercept such trucks heading back toward New Jersey on Route 22. “State police will pull them over for us. They have been very vigilant.”
Waive the degradation fee?
NBMA is asking Whitehall to waive a $26,000 degradation fee it is being asked to pay for the Mickley Road sinkhole.
Such fees are charged to anyone cutting into a township road that recently was repaved. “It’s kind of a disincentive to tearing a brand new road open,” explained Township Engineer Frank Clark, who added that is not what happened on Mickley Road.
Township administrators argued the sinkhole, which opened in Mickley Road on Jan. 27, created an emergency situation.
But township commissioners want to negotiate a money-saving deal with MBMA, which apparently will be initiated by a motion at Monday night’s township meeting.
A broken six-inch water main owned by NBMA was found when the sinkhole opened. Hozza said NBMA immediately repaired the line and filled the sinkhole. He said NBMA also will pay $15,000 to repair the road.
Township officials said it has not been determined if the water main break caused the sinkhole or the sinkhole caused the water main break.
Hozza said that section of Mickley Road was last repaved two or three years ago.
A break on fire hydrant fees?
Commissioner Ginder suggested Whitehall negotiate “a half-and-half on this degradation fee to try to cover some of the cost of the fire hydrants we’re paying full price for from NBMA.”
The township pays NBMA $56,000 a year for fire hydrant maintenance.
When asked what is involved in maintaining fire hydrants, Hozza offered an example. He said a car hit a hydrant on Schadt Avenue Saturday night and took off.
It snapped the hydrant. NBMA repaired the damage, with no additional charge to Whitehall.
He also said NBMA installed a new water line along MacArthur Road from Center Street to Lehigh Street, with a new fire hydrant at Municipal Drive, at no additional charge beyond the hydrant maintenance fee.
NBMA provides most of the public water service in Whitehall and has most of the fire hydrants, said Hozza.
“Is it possible to try to negotiate some of this?” asked Ginder. “If we’re willing to waive this degradation fee, then maybe we should ask them if they’d be willing to help us out with the cost of these fire hydrants.”
“I believe their answer will be that they haven’t raised that fee in several years,” said Hozza.
Responded Ginder: “They’re asking us to do something for them and I feel it’s only fair that we should ask them to do a little something for us. Give us a little break here.”
Ginder and other commissioners said the township does not pay Coplay-Whitehall Sewer Authority any fire hydrant maintenance fee.
“If you delay for negotiations, that will delay the repaving of the street,” warned Hozza, who later added: “We’re running out of time here. Nov. 15 normally is the date all paving operations cease” because of cold weather. “And I want them out of there before the start of the shopping season on Oct. 31.” That section of Mickley Road is just north of Whitehall Mall.
The mayor indicated NBMA has helped the township end water leaks in Cementon, Hokendauqua and Fullerton that were costing Whitehall hundreds of dollars. He said NBMA waived those meter bills. ”They didn’t have to do that.”
Hozza also said NBMA has not raised its water rates for several years.
Sinkhole lawsuit and insurance
The Mickley Road sinkhole has severely damaged a home at 1242 Mickley Road, said Hozza, who added the home is directly over the hole.
Deputy Mayor Jack Meyers said the township faces legal fees in a lawsuit filed because of that sinkhole, even though the township had nothing to do with causing it.
The owners of the home damaged by the sinkhole have sued NBMA, Coplay-Whitehall Sewer Authority and Whitehall, said Hozza. He declined to comment on the merits of that on-going suit or to identify the homeowners.
According to county assessment records, 1242 Mickley Road is owned by Barbara Baker and Sonia Luciano.
Meyers said the owners “walked away” from the home but still own it.
Hozza said those owners did not have sinkhole insurance, stressing: “It’s imperative for every resident or property owner in this township and in the Lehigh Valley to have sinkhole insurance. Call your insurance carrier and make sure you have sinkhole insurance.”
Hozza said four sinkholes have opened in Whitehall in the last three years, including one on a commercial property where the owner does have sinkhole insurance. He said the first to open was at 303 Florida Ave. The owners of that ranch home did not have sinkhole insurance.
Ginder said the township would face huge fees if a sinkhole should impact four or five houses. “I don’t know where the money would come from out of the public till here to clean these messes up.”
“It’s becoming like a common occurrence around here,” said Linda Snyder, president of the commissioners.