A quarry owner and a mining operator have terminated their lease for operations in Bucks County’s East Rockhill Township, scoring a victory for residents and environmental activists concerned about the spread of asbestos that naturally occurs in the rock there.
The unanswered questions: Will the owner, Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania in Allentown, bring in another operator or attempt to mine there itself? Or will it abandon the Rockhill Quarry?
Dan Soliday, who lives nearby and played with friends at the quarry in the 1960s, said it had been under a state-ordered shutdown while the Department of Environmental Protection considered whether mining should be allowed. Regulators discovered asbestos there in December 2018.
Asbestos, when disturbed and made airborne, can be inhaled and cause mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer.
Soliday, the director of the Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance, which has lobbied against the quarry, called it “a good sign” that the mining operator, R.E. Pierson Materials, no longer has its lease.
Jeff Sieg, a spokesperson at Lehigh Hanson Inc. corporate headquarters in Texas, confirmed the lease termination.
“The company will not actively mine the site at this time, but intends to maintain its operating permit in order to keep its options open for the future,” Sieg said in an email.
A representative for Pierson, based in Bridgeport, N.J., did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
State regulators have not made a final ruling on mining at the site. Hanson, which has owned the quarry since 1976, leased it in 2017 to Pierson, which planned to mine materials for use in construction projects for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority. But last month, a Bucks County judge ruled that Pierson’s plan to mine on the site while also operating an asphalt plant there violated local zoning rules.
In a letter last week to the DEP, Hanson requested an extension on the agency’s review of its operational plans, citing several factors, including the lease termination and the interruption to “normal business operations” by both state regulators and corporations due to the coronavirus crisis.
State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, a Bucks County Democrat, was part of a bipartisan group of elected officials that opposed mining at the quarry. He vowed to keep it up if Hanson attempts to bring in another operator or do its own mining at the quarry, which he called “inherently dangerous.
“At the end of the day, both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health will have to make a determination if any mining activity can happen at the quarry in light of the fact that there is naturally occurring asbestos,” Santarsiero said. “From my perspective, that site should never be operated again. And I will do everything I can to make sure that is the outcome here.”
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican who represents Bucks County, announced he was “thrilled” to hear about the lease termination but said, “Our work is far from over.”