Falls Township votes down contentious wastewater processing project
The Falls Township Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to bar a hazardous wastewater processing facility from being built in town, for now capping a saga that has drawn thousands of residents from their homes in protest over the last five years.
The Falls Township Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to bar a hazardous wastewater processing facility from being built in the town, for now capping a saga that has drawn thousands of residents from their homes in protest over the last five years.
Hundreds of attendees at Pennsbury High School-West’s Keller Hall rose to their feet cheering when officials delivered the land-use decision against Elcon Recycling Services after a tense, three-hour meeting that brought together a dozen township officials, lawyers for Elcon, and residents concerned about pollution the plant would bring.
Elcon, based in Israel, had overestimated how much it would financially contribute to the town and made several basic errors, such as not listing the Falls Township Fire Company as one of its main emergency contacts, said Robert Harvie, chairman of the supervisors.
“It’s been a lot of work. It was a lot of concerned people,” he said. “It’s a project that didn’t fit in our subdivision. You’re taking a square peg and putting it in a round hole.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will deliver its own decision about the plant later this month, after it reviews the plant’s plans again, Harvie said.
In the meantime, Harvie said, he suspected Elcon’s lawyers would appeal the supervisors’ decision.
The proposed plant, at 100 Dean Sievers Place on the Keystone Port Industrial Complex in Fairless Hills, would have processed up to 210,000 tons of chemical liquid waste annually, with up to 20 trucks entering the facility per day. At the plant, Elcon officials said, a four-step process would remove and dry out solids and salts from hazardous waste. During the same process, Elcon said, volatile organic compounds — natural or man-made chemicals that can cause myriad health issues if ingested frequently — would be turned into gases and released in the air. Elcon authorities said that the emissions would have 99% purity.
The company’s lawyers doubled down on their assurances Tuesday, receiving a chorus of boos.
“I think Elcon is just going to take it to litigation,” said Elizabeth Nesbitt, an Elcon critic from Falls. “But tonight is a good win. And I think the Pennsylvania DEP needs to step up to the plate. It’s up to them to stop it. The township did their part as much as they can.”
Town officials extensively questioned Elcon’s lawyers Tuesday, citing a lack of essential safety provisions, such as wide fire lanes and outside steps that would allow employees and emergency personnel to escape in the case of an emergency.
“How much risk are we willing to accept?” said Finn Connor, a Pennsbury student. “Who’s going to pick up the tab?”
Nearly 4,000 Falls residents and 1,400 people from outside of the town had signed petitions against Elcon, said resident Kathleen Bird in handing several thick binders to township officials.
Dozens said they saw an attack on their community. “I worry that a spill, fire, or explosion could directly affect us,” said Erica Bradeis, a member of the Clean Air and Water Council and a lifelong Falls resident.
However, local union workers said Elcon had promised them construction jobs should the plant be built.
“It won’t impact the environment whatsoever,” said Bernard Griggs Jr., business representative for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. “We’re here for the construction jobs.”
When the supervisors moved for denial, they stormed out, leaving behind signs that asked Bucks County to create jobs.