Written by Eric Wise
Trucks will be routed around North Union Street and Stoner Drive in Lower Swatara Twp. under a proposed weight-limit ordinance that cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:54
Written by Dan Miller
The new Amtrak train station along West Main Street in Middletown has been little more than a concept for most people. But now for the first time, people can see pretty much exactly what the station will look like, thanks to renderings provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:38
Written by Dan Miller
The Middletown Borough Authority hired former borough manager Tim Konek as a consultant at a rate of $65 an hour for up to 30 hours a week during its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Konek will act as “an independent management consultant to perform consulting services related to project, administrative and associated activities as identified by the authority,” authority Chairman David Rhen said in an e-mail he sent in response to questions from the Press And Journal.
Konek at times may also represent the authority in regular “operations” meetings that are held with Suez, the private company that took over the public water and sewer systems in Middletown from the authority as part of a 50-year lease agreement approved by the authority and Middletown Borough Council in 2014.
Konek, a civil engineer by trade, started working for the borough in early 2012, first as a consultant with professional services firm Dewberry to assist with issues related to the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee. In June 2012, council tapped Konek to be the new borough manager to replace Ron Mull, who had resigned in January 2012.
Konek resigned on Dec. 23, joining several other top management officials who had been brought in by a former majority on council. At the time of his resignation, Konek was making $67,500 a year – the same salary he earned when he started in 2012.
At most, Konek could earn up to $1,950 a week – if he works the maximum 30 hours. If Konek worked the maximum hours year-round, he would earn about $101,000 in a year, though it was not clear how many hours he will work for the authority.
Council approved $22,000 in bonuses for top administrators and a “separation agreement” with Konek in December, though the borough has not stated publicly if Konek received any of the bonus money or released the details of the separation agreement.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:40
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council voted 8-1 on Tuesday, Feb. 2 to hire legal counsel toward filing a court injunction to block a proposed crematory behind the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St.
Council had not hired a lawyer as of Monday, Feb. 8, but was “working on it,” Council President Ben Kapenstein said in an e-mail to the Press And Journal. Nothing had been filed in court, and filing an injunction is not expected until after council hires the outside lawyer, Kapenstein said.
Asked for comment regarding council’s plan to file an injunction, Travis Finkenbinder, owner of the funeral home, told the Press And Journal in an e-mail, “We received zoning approval for the crematory project more than seven months ago and continue to move forward with the project.”
Finkenbinder said all he knew of council’s intent was what he had read online at the Press And Journal’s Web site. “We are working to learn more about what occurred during the meeting last week,” he said.
In a related development, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sent Fager-Finkenbinder a “technical deficiency letter” by certified mail on Monday, Feb. 1 that requested more information regarding the funeral home’s application for an air quality permit to open and operate the crematory.
Council’s surprise action to file the injunction came after councilors – for the second time in two weeks – heard pleas from residents living near the funeral home who are against the proposed crematory.
“This is not right,” said Kirk Ramsey of the 100 block of N. Pine St. “We don’t want this. Everybody in this town is going to lose money. What does Middletown have to gain from this? Nothing.”
Council will have to obtain separate legal counsel because the law firm that is the borough solicitor, McNees Wallace & Nurick of Harrisburg, also represents Fager-Finkenbinder. “They have a conflict,” Kapenstein explained.
In October, Fager-Finkenbinder filed an application with the DEP to operate the crematory at the site. The application is under technical review by DEP – the agency’s target date to finish the review is May 20, but that date was set before DEP sent its “technical deficiency letter.’’
Among other things, the letter asks Fager-Finkenbinder for more information regarding emissions from the crematory as well as the type and amount of waste generated. The letter asks that the funeral home provide data from a “stack test” that has been conducted within the past five years, noting that the data Fager-Finkenbinder provided in the application was from a test done on Jan. 7, 2009.
The letter asks that Fager-Finkenbinder provide “an acceptable temperature range.” The funeral home application lists a temperature range from 1,400 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, but the secondary combustion chamber temperature during the cremation cycle “must be equal to or greater” than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, DEP said in the letter.
The letter asked that Fager-Finkenbinder provide emission calculations for all pollutants based upon the maximum operating potential of 8,760 hours a year as stated in the application. Finally, DEP asked whether the crematory will have “an opaque monitoring device” which is referred to in state regulations as “an alternative” to visually observing the crematory exhaust stack for “the presence of visible and odor emissions.”
DEP also asked for a response from Fager-Finkenbinder within 30 days.
Documents filed as part of the Fager-Finkenbinder application identify 29 residential properties – homes and garages – that are within a 250-foot circle drawn around the proposed crematory.
The residents contend that the crematory will emit potentially harmful mercury emissions – from dental implants in the remains of some of those who would be cremated at the site – as well as offensive odors. Concerns have also been raised over intrusive lighting coming from the facility.
The crematory would reduce the value of nearby properties and conflict with the borough’s ongoing downtown revitalization, the residents say.
“How can we possibly expect to bring new people into our town when we have something like this in the midst of it?” said Jo-Ann Lauffer, of the 200 block of N. Pine St.
She asked that council render “null and void” a determination issued on June 24 by former Middletown Codes Enforcement Officer Jeff Miller that gave Fager-Finkenbinder local zoning approval for the crematory as an “accessory” use to the funeral home. Miller resigned in early December.
According to documents included in the DEP permit filing, Miller rendered that written decision just one day after receiving the application from Fager-Finkenbinder.
Residents also point to documents included in Fager-Finkenbinder’s DEP application stating that the crematory could potentially operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 52 weeks a year, although Fager-Finkenbinder also states in the application that the crematory’s actual “operating schedule” would be 12 hours a day, six days a week and 52 weeks a year.
The residents contend that even the 12 hours a day operating schedule would eventually lead to the crematory becoming the primary business driver at the funeral home, which would invalidate the “accessory” finding upon which Miller’s determination was based.
Residents say they fear that Fager-Finkenbinder intends to use the crematory to incinerate remains from all four of its funeral homes, not just the one in Middletown. Fager-Finkenbinder also owns funeral homes in Palmyra, Elizabethtown and Marietta.
“We believe that a review of Mr. Miller’s approval of the Fager-Finkenbinder request should determine whether or not Mr. Miller himself or any other members of the borough management were aware of Fager-Finkenbinder’s intention to operate the crematory up to 12 hours a day or even 24/7,” said David Black, who lives next to the funeral home, said in prepared remarks to council.
After hearing comments from residents, Councilor Robert Reid called on council to seek an immediate injunction. “Do we have enough time to stop this?” Reid asked.
The residents erupted into applause after Councilor Greg Wilsbach added, “We should do everything in our power to try and stop this project.”
But others on council warned against moving too fast.
“Right now we can’t make decisions without legal consultation,” said Vice President Damon Suglia.
However, the only councilor to vote against the motion was Diana McGlone. While saying she shares the concerns of the residents, “I do not like the language of seeking an injunction without getting legal counsel on it first,” McGlone said.
After the vote, Kapenstein said that the motion is for council to “seek out legal counsel and subsequently file an injunction to stop the crematory.”
“We have to hire the attorney first, obviously,” he said. “I’m going to be on it tomorrow. I don’t know how soon it’s going to happen. It seems like we have to move pretty fast. I’ll be calling around tomorrow to try and figure out legal counsel.”
The Press And Journal earlier sent a list of questions detailing the residents’ concerns to funeral home owner Travis Finkenbinder to get a response.
Finkenbinder declined to answer any of the specific questions, but in his response e-mailed to the Press And Journal said that the funeral home is “committed to conforming with all rules, laws and regulations as we install and implement this demanded service at our North Union Street funeral home.”
The supplier of the equipment for the proposed crematory, Matthews Cremation, is part of a 150-year old company based in Pittsburgh that has “dozens of cremation systems in Pennsylvania – several in Dauphin County – all of which have been approved” by DEP, Finkenbinder wrote.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:03
Written by Eric Wise
Crematory operators are seldom found in violation of state air quality standards and fined, aside from those with poor record-keeping or expired permits, a Press And Journal investigation of Department of Environmental Protection records for 2014 and 2015 has shown.
During 2014 and 2015, DEP fined six violators a total for a variety of permit violations. Penalties ranging from $1,800 to $5,100 led to a total of $20,500 for the Pennsylvania Clean Air Fund for both years combined.
That represented a small share of income for the fund from clean air-related penalties, as the department collected $1.8 million in 2014 and $1.39 million in 2015, according to information provided by DEP.
The department fined three operators in Bucks County in 2014, including American Cremation Services in Warwick Twp., Veterinary Crematory Services in Warminster Twp. and Bucks County Crematories in Bristol Twp. The department fined Veterinary Crematory Services again in 2015, as well as Delaware County operators Donohue Funeral Home in Upper Darby and Pagano Funeral Home in Bethel Twp., DEP records show.
The department and the operators entered consent assessments for the penalties, noting equipment issues, record keeping problems and a lack of employee training for Veterinary Crematory Services, DEP records show. Three of the others were fined for operating with an expired permit and one was found to have failed to keep proper records as required under current regulations and terms of the operating permit, according to DEP records.
The department also provided records of 17 warning notices sent to crematory operators during the same two years, although none of them affected Dauphin County crematories. Violations progress from a warning to a penalty when evaluated for the severity of the violation, repeat violations and failures to correction the violation, said John Repetz, community relations coordinator for the DEP’s south-central office.
One warning stemmed from a complaint by a Pennsylvania resident concerning smoke and odors from a crematory operated by the Montgomery County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Conshohocken, DEP records show. An air quality specialist followed up the same day the complaint was received and confirmed an equipment malfunction, according to DEP records. The department requested a plan to correct the problem and told the operator that such malfunctions are to be reported to the department.
“Anyone can call their respective regional office to report a complaint on any issue,” Repetz said.
Seven other warnings addressed problems with malfunctioning or substandard equipment, while the others resulted from expired permits and record-keeping problems, DEP records show.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:00