In a sometimes unruly public hearing Tuesday night on a company’s plan to withdrawal almost 2 million gallons of water a week from the Lycoming Creek watershed in Old Lycoming Township, residents spoke out against the idea that would provide water to the natural gas industry.
The conditional use hearing held at the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Co. was one of at least three meetings that are scheduled to hear citizen concerns and hear testimony from Centura Development Co., 1001 Commerce Park Drive, the project’s applicant, and Bimbo Bakeries, 3375 Lycoming Creek Road, which opposes the project.
Bimbo Bakeries officials have said that they are concerned about water withdrawal because the company relies on wells in its food manufacturing process.
Additional public hearings will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on May 8 and 22 at the fire company.
Tuesday’s hearing set the stage for the water withdrawal project and the Centura’s request to operate its proposed Marcellus Operations Center at 3231 Lycoming Creek Road, a permitted conditional use.
The project – which has had an on-and-off existence in the township – was approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission on Dec. 14, 2012. That agency found that Centura’s plans had “no adverse effects” to the watershed.
Township Zoning Officer Forrest Lehman said Centura’s plan calls for up to 58 water tankers a day traveling to and from the site.
Original plans were withdrawn by the company in February, only to be resubmitted shortly thereafter.
Before public testimony began, attorney J. David Smith, who served as hearing examiner, told the audience of more than 100 people that township Supervisor Janet Hall, who resides in close proximity to the project, was not taking part as an elected official, but rather as a resident.
“She doesn’t feel she can be impartial. This is what the law requires (her) to do,” Smith said.
One person asked if Supervisor John W. Eck was related to Centura’s owner, Keith Eck. Smith responded that they are cousins.
“That is not a disqualifying relationship according to the law,” Smith said.
That didn’t satisfy several residents, including William A. Giovannelli, of Log Run Road, who questioned the supervisor’s ties.
“Mr. Eck, I believe you should step down like this lady did,” Giovannelli said, referring to Hall. “I think you should in the interest of fairness.”
Kurt E. Williams, an attorney representing Centura, objected to citizens’ letters and petitions against the project being put in the record because he believes they were based on the company’s original plans, and not new ones.
Smith, who did not rule on the objection, told those in attendance that they should resubmit their concerns to the township.
“In an abundance of caution, resubmit it if you can,” he said. “It doesn’t mean its going to be wiped out.”
Williams said the water withdrawal project has met an “exhaustive review” from the SRBC to be approved.
“The SRBC is not in the business of allowing wells that would damage other peoples’ wells,” he said.
Hall was the first to take the podium to speak against the project. She said the site was an “inappropriate” place for a water withdrawal project because hundreds of residents there rely on shallow wells for their water supply.
“Please do not destroy the beauty of the Lycoming Creek valley by robbing it off its water supply,” she said.
Giovannelli said the issue boils down to “one man’s greed over everybody’s lives.”
Mark and Tracy Rice, of Park Drive, said they are concerned about potential water contamination and not having access to public water where they live.
The couple also expressed concerns because while they live near the proposed site, they are residents of Loyalsock Township, whose supervisors don’t have a say in the matter, they said.
John J. Rooney Jr., owner of Jack and Sarah’s Family Restaurant, 3630 Lycoming Creek Road, said his business depends on well water.
“If we were to lose our water, we lose our business,” he said.
“The day I lose my water, I’m going to come down to your house and see how you like it. That’s not a threat; that’s a promise,” he said.