Elcon decision moves to Department of Environmental Protection

The Falls Township board of supervisors recently voted ‘no’ on the proposal to build a wastewater treatment facility in Bucks County

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Voices of concern: During a special public meeting, the Falls Township board of supervisors denied Elcon’s land development application. More than 500 Bucks residents attended the meeting, which had a one-item agenda — whether or not Elcon should open a wastewater treatment center in the area. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

Among the more than 500 locals crammed into Pennsbury High School’s Keller Hall on the evening of Tuesday, April 30, not a single one had a neutral stance on the issue at hand — Elcon.

Over the past five years, the Israel-based recycling center, and whether or not it should open a wastewater treatment facility at 100 Dean Sievers Place on the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township, has been the main topic of discussion.

Last week, tensions surrounding the conversation reached a fever pitch when the board of supervisors hosted a special public meeting on the matter. While the majority of attendees were adamantly opposed to the waste facility, donning anti-Elcon T-shirts and shouting statements like, “You’re bringing death and destruction to our town,” others carried pickett signs emblazoned with the words “Jobs for Bucks County Residents.”

During the meeting, which began at 7 p.m., the board heard testimony from Elcon’s lawyers, engineering professionals and dozens of residents. After three hours, it reached a unanimous decision — Elcon’s land development application was denied.

According to chairman Bob Harvie, there were a number of glaring concerns with the eight-binder application submitted by Elcon, and several key factors were either inaccurately or not properly addressed: the ability for workers to escape the property in the face of an emergency; the security of the trucks transporting the hazardous waste; and Elcon’s actual economic benefit to the township, which Harvie said was inflated.

Additionally, Falls engineer Joseph Jones explained how he issued a review letter to Elcon, outlining areas that didn’t comply with township ordinances, including the excessive amount of “fill” being proposed and the questionable retaining wall to hold it. Though some changes were made, such as a readjustment of the parking lot, Jones said these changes “weren’t very substantive.”

Harvie stressed that the board’s decision is just the first phase in stopping Elcon. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection still has to vote on the issue. Elcon’s purchase of the property is contingent upon DEP approval.

“They do not have to take what we have done into account, but we believe it’s wise that they do so,” he said.

The public meeting was chock-full of detailed arguments from both sides. First, Kim Freimuth of Fox Rothchild, who was present on behalf of Elcon, gave an in-depth presentation on the company’s recycling process in an attempt to dispel misunderstandings.

Freimuth stated how liquid waste streams from industrial operations such as pharmaceutical, petroleum, semi-conductor or petrochemical operations would be treated at the site, with 81 to 89 percent of the waste stream comprised of water. This received a roar of disbelieving laughter from the audience.

According to the Clean Air Council, although Elcon claimed 99.9 percent of the waste wouldn’t be released into the air, the remaining 0.1 percent adds up over time. Of the 150,000–210,000 tons of waste processed annually, a minimum of 150–210 tons would go into the air. Once released, the toxins can travel up to a 30-mile radius.

The attorney then provided an overview of what would happen to the waste when it arrives, explaining how each waste stream would undergo a thorough review process. Approximately 20 truckloads of waste streams would arrive per day, and no more than one truckload of salts and/or sludge (the by-products generated) would be removed from the site per day.

“Spill modeling” would, according to Freimuth, prevent accidental contamination of the local drinking water supply, and Pennsylvania Avenue in Morrisville would not be utilized as a truck route. This was the single statement by Freimuth that received applause.

The meeting then transitioned into 90 minutes of heated public comment, during which Harvie put his gavel to good use.

Erica Bradeis, a 27-year Falls Township resident and member of the Clean Air and Water Council, expressed her worries over having the facility located a mere 1.8 miles from her mother’s home, where her children often stay.

“I worry that a fire, spill or explosion could directly affect us,” Bradeis said. “And I feel that the plan does not outline how they would prevent spills and leaks and necessary containment in order to prevent such disasters from happening.”

Meanwhile, resident Kathleen Bird approached the board’s table carrying a massive binder, which contained 4,000 petitions against Elcon from Falls Township locals and 1,400 signatures from neighboring communities.

Though the board’s decision was a major win for those of the anti-Elcon majority, the group’s fight is still not over. To continue to raise awareness about Elcon’s wastewater proposal, several organizations, including the Clean Air and Water Council, will host an event on Wednesday, May 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Bucks County Hotel, 400 Oxford Valley Road, Langhorne. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com