State DEP tells crab roaster to eliminate odors

State DEP tells crab roaster to eliminate odors

Source: Daily Item (Sunbury, PA), September 4, 2011
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The state Department of Environmental Protection has investigated a much-maligned crab shell-roasting operation in Kelly Township and warned the operator to control the bad smell coming from the Hoffa Mill Road farm.

But there’s no indication the creation of fertilizer and feed from the shells — the source of complaints from residents as far away as Lewisburg borough — can or will be stopped as a result.

Despite pressure from former county commissioner Bill Haas and others, township zoning officer Ralph Hess said he cannot and will not revoke the zoning permit that allowed Lester Nolt to build the crab-shell roaster on his farm.

More details are emerging about the operation, owned by Curtis Falck, who operates H&C Grove NX. He’s part of the family that has owned and operated the nearby, historic Groves Mill for decades.

Nolt only lets the equipment and the crab waste, brought in by truck from Maryland, function on his property.

Neither Nolt nor Falck will comment on the record about the operation, though Nolt has referred all questions to Falck, who he said owned the operation.

Fugitive emissions and malodors

DEP officials went to the farm Aug. 11 and found “fugitive emissions” and “malodors” coming from the roasting operation, DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni said.

“We sent Mr. Falck a letter on Aug. 18, indicating that there are air quality regulations that apply to this type of operation,” Spadoni said. “We indicated that he should take the necessary measures to minimize and prevent malodors.”

DEP officials will be returning at “some point in the near future” to reinspect the roaster, Spadoni said.

“We indicated in the letter that continuing violations could result in enforcement action,” Spadoni said. “I can’t speculate on what that might be.”

It is Haas’ contention that Hess did not properly discuss the operation when the permit was first proposed in September 2010. Haas said he has spoken to the township supervisors, who weren’t aware what was planned for the site until well after the roasting had begun.

But Hess said he followed the letter of the township’s zoning ordinance and the municipal planning code when it came to issuing the $70 zoning permit to Nolt on Sept. 20. And those same regulations don’t allow him to revoke the zoning permit.

Hess said the roasting is an agribusiness and a “use by right” in the agricultural zone where the farm is located. In plain speak, that means there does not need to be any formal hearing before the township zoning board, planning commission or other body before the permit is issued.

Haas and others have questioned how crab-shell roasting is considered an agricultural operation.

Under the zoning ordinance, Hess said, the definition of an agribusiness includes the sale or processing of agricultural or farm-related products or equipment. The ordinance also states that “agricultural” includes aquaculture, under which the crab shells fall.

Since the crab shells are being converted to fertilizer and animal feed, it is considered an agricultural operation, Hess said.

“I have no just cause to shut him down,” Hess said, adding he consulted township solicitor Pete Matson.

As for notifying the township supervisors of the operation, Hess said it was included in his monthly report issued to the board back in October. Hess, who also handles planning and zoning for East Buffalo and White Deer townships, said he issues similar reports to those municipal boards.

“The permit was recorded and presented in a monthly report,” he said. “To what detail they read it, I can’t speak to.”

But, Haas said, given the nature of the operation, Hess should have pointed out the item to the board.

It’s unlike anything else the township has seen, and the mostly rural municipality is familiar with bad smells and nuisances.

With the rain falling Thursday, Haas stood in his driveway and pointed across Col. John Kelly Highway to a farm where a manure pit is directly across from his own front door. He motioned west to a farm a few hundred yards away, where another manure pit is located. He pointed to the west edge of Dale’s Ridge, home of the Pik-Rite Inc. quarry that uses dynamite sometimes to blast rock used in road construction.

“This,” he said of the shell roasting, “is unlike any of that.”

“There’s a lot of concern”

Since the stench began, Haas has spoken to local municipal officials, local business leaders and neighbors as far away as Lewisburg who have smelled the odor. He declined to identify the group publicly, but they are some prominent folks in the area.

And their descriptions of the stench are similar.

Burning wires. Burning animal flesh. Chickens set on fire.

Haas relied upon Lewisburg Councilman John Baker to take the group’s concerns public during a borough council meeting in mid-August. It was then that Mayor Judy Wagner said she, too, had smelled the stench at her house on Spruce Street — more than three miles from the farm.

Haas’ group has put together other first-hand and second-hand accounts of how far the smell travels. That includes the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg about a mile away, to Vicksburg, more than three miles away. There even was a report of the odor in New Berlin.

“There’s a lot of concern,” Haas said.

“Let’s hope”

But what can be done?

Spadoni said to his knowledge, DEP has never shut down an operation solely based on its odor.

At this point, court action appears to be the only recourse. Under the municipal planning code, the right to appeal to the township zoning hearing board ends 30 days after the permit is issued.

However, there are cases on the books where courts have ruled extenuating circumstances allow the appeal to be heard after the 30-day deadline.

There is some question there, as the permit for the operation was given to Nolt, but it is being run by Falck. Also, the 30-day deadline expired Oct. 20 of last year, but the roasting operation didn’t start until this summer.

If an appeal can’t be heard by the zoning hearing board, it would go to the county court of common pleas.

Haas said he and the members of his group are hoping things don’t go that far.

“Let’s hope the township supervisors can figure out a way to shut this down,” he said.

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