After nearly 5 years of contentious opposition from Fairless Hills residents, township supervisors and environmental groups, the decision made in July by Elcon Recycling Services to formally withdraw their proposal for a pharmaceutical waste treatment plant had the area breathing a collective sigh of relief.
The company, who only had their application approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in July of 2018, was planning to construct and operate a hazardous waste treatment and storage facility at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex, site of the former U.S. Steel Fairless Works (Steel Mill), in Falls Township. The initial proposal included the construction of the facility on 23 acres at the site, with a seven-foot high retaining wall, around the perimeter.
Elcon faced an uphill battle even before the start. For years, rumors and speculation had swirled around neighboring communities regarding this project. And the immediate consensus among everyone was that this company would have a harmful environmental and safety impact on the region.
Opposition first started in the way of old fashioned, door-to-door campaigning of area residents informing neighborhoods of the planned project, pamphlets mailed out periodically, and no Elcon signs posted on front lawns throughout Morrisville, Falls Township and Tullytown, as well as areas in Burlington, NJ.
Erin Higgins, a 10-year resident of Fairless Hills, said, “I was concerned then with not only the increase in the amount of traffic we would all be seeing, but more so with what toxic materials, would’ve been transported coming and going on a daily basis through our neighborhoods.”
As a mom of two young children, Higgins cited that the potentially harmful environmental aspects of this project as her major concern.
Representatives from the Delaware River Keeper Network, a non-profit organization created in 1988, who advocate for clean air and water, voiced their concerns to the township. They sent multiple letters highlighting the detrimental environmental impact that a facility like this would have, especially being built so close to the Delaware River, which provides the water source for millions of people in the surrounding areas.
After several meetings held between area residents and officials with the DEP, on Tuesday, April 30, 2019, the first public town hall meeting regarding the proposal, took place at Pennsbury High School. There were over 500 people in attendance, in the standing room only crowd, while the local police had to turn people away at the door.
It was at this three-hour meeting that the Falls Township Board of Supervisors listened to the proposal by Elcon representatives and nearly an hour and half of public comments. Chairman of the Board, Jeffrey Dence, stated, “We voted unanimously against the Elcon proposal that evening, but we had to look it objectively.”
While environmental and resident concerns were at the forefront of the objections, Dence also noted that the actual site location simply wasn’t the right spot and had also taken issue with the aggressive time frame for construction of the plant.
The DEP had hosted a meeting on March 5, 2019, at the Sheraton Hotel in Langhorne to hear public comments about the project. Sarah Krusen, a 13-year resident of Fairless Hills, was in attendance that night and continued to follow all subsequent meetings regarding this issue.
Krusen said she was quite pleased when she heard that the board had officially voted against the proposal.
“I had been anxiously awaiting the outcome of that night, as I had been invested in the campaign against this project from the beginning, and was really concerned what the next steps would’ve been had the board voted in favor,” said Krusen.
When asked if there had been any pushback against the board regarding their decision, Dence stated, “There had been quite a lot of negative comments against the board posted on several social media platforms, prior to that meeting at Pennsbury.”
However, Dence added, “The community turnout that night, was a clear indicator to us, that those false rumors and negative comments, were nothing more than that.”
In June 2019, Elcon appealed the decision by the Falls Township Board of Supervisors. With the application formerly stuck in the appeals process for several more months, the company could not have predicted what would have happened next.
In Feb. 2020, the coronavirus outbreak had reached the United States, and was then exploding into a pandemic, affecting citizens, businesses and economies worldwide.
How large of a role this COVID-19 crisis played in their final decision was unclear. On July 23, the DEP received a letter from the law offices of Fox Rothschild, LLP, on behalf of their client, Mr. Zvi Elgat, CEO of Elcon Recycling Services, LLC, requesting the official withdrawal of their permit application.
Elgat stated in the letter, “The current business climate, including the impacts of COVID-19, has forced Elcon to re-evaluate its plans for expanding its hazardous waste treatment business into the United States.”
Elgat added, “It is entirely possible that Elcon will seek to expand its treatment business into the U.S at some point in the future, especially if the U.S increases pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19, with the corresponding need to increase the capacity for treating the liquid hazardous waste that is generated.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Sofield / LevittownNow.com