After a number of East Allen Township residents expressed concerns over a possible mining expansion by Keystone Cement, the cement company gave residents and the township’s supervisors a thorough presentation on future plans, which include expanding mining to 150 feet above sea level.
The presentation was given by the cement company’s environmental experts and consultants during the township’s December 18 supervisors’ meeting. No representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection were in attendance, despite requests by supervisors. The DEP is responsible for giving the mining permit to Keystone.
Geologist Matthew Weikel led the presentation. He said Keystone wishes to deepen two of its three quarries by 100 feet, in addition to expanding their width. These alterations, which have been planned since 2016, would lengthen the life expectancy of the quarries by 20 years, ensuring the company has enough resources for at least 60 years.
However, as some neighbors, especially in the nearby Jacksonville Road area, have feared, this deeper mining will impact water levels in surrounding wells. Weikel says the water table will decrease by about 20 feet. However, he added that the change will be gradual. The mining will be conducted in three phases over the course of ten to fifteen years. After each phase, Keystone will communicate any changes or concerns to the DEP. A series of wells throughout the company’s property will be used as monitoring tools.
Representatives from Keystone could not promise that township residents will not lose their water, but stressed that the situation is “unlikely.” If any resident does lose their water, PA law requires that Keystone restore and replace it.
However, Supervisor Don Heiney worried that residents would be up for a hard fight against the company, and would be forced to jump through legal and political hoops to have their water restored. Any issues would have to be reported to DEP’s Pottsville office, which is only open on weekdays.
Scott McGoldrick, environmental expert at Keystone, said there would be “no fight.” Instead, Keystone would be required to remediate all issues before they are allowed to begin any new project phase. He said that Keystone can have water restored for residents within hours. He cited a past issue in which a Jacksonville Road resident experienced a well collapse. Keystone installed a 700-gallon water tank on the property and filled it every day until the well was repaired.
Based on modeling, McGoldrick stressed, he does not believe Keystone would have to resort to such extremes again.
Supervisor Mark Schwartz was skeptical.
“I have seen [engineering] fail time and time again,” he said. He worried about residents going for days without water.
“If we damage your wells, we will fix your wells,” promised McGoldrick. “Keystone has been here for 90 years. We are trying to keep that going.”
“We are not in this to affect anyone negatively,” he added. “We want to make sure we do what is right.”
Keystone will be sending more well integrity surveys to nearby residents. They are willing to help residents complete the surveys and answer any questions.
Although Schwartz said he is not “assuaged,” he appreciated Keystone attending the public meeting.
“They seem to be willing to work with you,” he told residents. “It would be advantageous to do so.”
“We want to help,” stressed McGoldrick. “We have helped in the past. I do not suspect that we would stop doing so.”