“I can’t write or speak, but I can bake,” said a 90-year-old woman arriving at a fundraising bake sale with two Pennsylvania Dutch Funny cakes.
For over fourteen years, she, and others in Lower Milford Township in Eastern Pennsylvania, have been fighting to protect 629 acres from being developed into a quarry, a ready-mix asphalt plant, and a concrete plant.
I first wrote about this David versus Goliath story in December of 2016. Two years later, the Zoning Hearing Board of Lower Milford Township voted unanimously to deny Geryville Materials the special exception needed to build the quarry and the plants. And while the ruling is consistent with two Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions in favor of the people of Lower Milford Township, Geryville Materials filed yet another appeal in late January of 2019.
Where do these volunteers find the energy and strength to persevere for so long?
“To know this land is to want to protect it.” said human resource consultant and President of the Lower Milford Residents Association (LMRA), Lori Sickenberger. “I had to fight. As the years went on, I heard the stories from the elderly who grew up here, who stayed here because they love the peacefulness of this valley. People's sincere gratitude and encouragement have lifted me when I am tired. Prayers have kept me going. My husband, Bill, has stood by my side through it all. Even though the fight has been exhausting and at times a negative drain on my soul, I have never considered giving up. I can't.”
The odds are beyond scary to a 19.6 square-mile township with a population of 3,775. The long, drawn-out battle has made it hard to keep people engaged. To most LMRA members, it feels as if one of Geryville’s strategy is to wear them down.
“At the first meeting, hundreds of people showed up—angry and concerned over the threat to the community,” said Ron Tomes, a school bus driver for special needs children. “But apathy strikes quickly. In the end, eight to twelve people are left fighting against all odds. What has kept us going for so long—particularly during times of despair—is that amazing people will step forward with sizable donations, even from outside the community . . . Out of the ashes rises a phoenix, and we forge ahead.”
In addition to time and energy, the fight takes money.
“In the state of Pennsylvania, the mining industry is ruthless and well-established,” said Paul Shellaway, owner of an automobile body shop. “What mining wants, mining gets . . . but we’ve endured because what we are doing is legitimate. We’ve endured because of our resolve. They want to ram it through regardless of facts. We hired experts and good lawyers to help us find and present the facts.”
In explaining the decision to deny Geryville Material’s request, the zoning board placed concerns about water at the top of the list. Any disruption to the quality or quantity of water due to the quarry “would have devastating long term effects” to nearby residents and farms whose only sources of water are the springs and groundwater running through the quarry.
The board listened to an expert in wetland ecology, who pointed out that the quarry would stand at the headwaters of five tributaries to the Hosensack Creek, all under consideration for exceptional value status—the highest quality streams in the Commonwealth. He also voiced concern the quarry would damage a downstream section of the Hosensack Creek that has been designated a Class A Wild Trout Stream.
According to the denial document, the board’s concerns had “nothing to do with the standard operating procedures of the quarry with regard to ‘water issues,’ but instead everything to do with the impact that the quarry has on this particular environment, these particular waterways, these particular neighbors, and this particular community.”
There were traffic and road infrastructure concerns associated with trucks weighing 65,000-80,000 pounds entering and leaving the site every 90 seconds. That translates to 460 trips per day on a single, narrow roadway shared with slow-moving farm vehicles. In addition to the increased burden placed on the township to maintain that road, the board expressed concern about “the onslaught of vehicles passing nearby houses on a daily basis.”
After reading the long list of issues, of which water and traffic are only two, it seems impossible that this fight has dragged on for so long. But it has. The resident association is already scheduling bake sales and spring flower sales to fund this ongoing battle.
“We are a small, but talented team,” said Michael McDonnell, owner of a graphic design business. “Sometimes all it takes is a handful of people. Sometimes it only takes one. I want to stand with that one person.”
Paraphrasing a quote from the movie Braveheart, he adds, “And, dying in my bed many years from now . . . I want to know I did what I could.”
What, you may be thinking, does this have to do with the Great Lakes? First, in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you the president of the Residents Association fighting this quarry is my sister-in-law, Lori Sickenberger. Second, she is my role model as I begin to build a grassroots effort to make the skies over the Great Lakes balloon-free.
To contribute to the work of the Lower Milford Residents Association as they prepare for this next legal battle, visit LMRA
or mail a check to:
Lower Milford Residents Association (LMRA)
PO Box 138
Limeport, PA 18060
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