Trap Rock Lake – The 100 Year Plan

In another 100 years, when Trap Rock Industries quits the quarry on Route 29, there could be a new body of water in Delaware Township. But it could take many more years to fill up; Trap Rock estimates it will contain 13 Billion gallons of water and two hydrogeologists agree that the water is unlikely to come from underground.

And prior to quitting, another unusual geographical feature will be created.  Trap Rock will build a berm around the entire quarrying area.  Its specifications, the result of a settlement of litigation, anticipate a 12,000′ long barrier that will be 50′ high and 200′ wide at the base.  (For a previous article and commentary explaining the various aspects of the settlement)  Its purpose is to help control noise and dust.

On Tuesday, July 15 2008 the Planning Board held the second in a series of meetings to review the reclamation plan for the Trap Rock quarry. A reclamation plan, envisioning the property’s end use is required by ordinance and it must address numerous topics that are not just about the ultimate post-quarrying use of the property, but also about present-day circumstances such as dust and noise control, air and water pollution, stormwater management, and the structural integrity of the quarry’s rock faces.

Several members of the board are also members of the “Concerned Neighbors of Trap Rock” (CNOTR) a neighborhood organization that was a party to settlement of litigation between Trap Rock, the township and CNOTR.  Those members, Ron Bond, Kathy Katz, and Deputy Mayor Kristin McCarthy have recused themselves from the proceedings.

Trap Rock plans to continue quarrying on that site for another 100 years and when they are finished, they will have dug down approximately 480 feet below Route 29 – 400′ below sea level.  According to the experts who testified before the Planning Board, they have not even reached the half-way point and the property has been quarried since 1860. Trap Rock has owned the quarry since 1966.

At the previous meeting on July 1, the Board heard from Trap Rock’s experts, a geological engineer and a hydrogeologist who gave background information about the quarry operation and the geology of the site.

Engineer Stephen Luoma spent considerable time discussing the berm.  It is to be constructed in five phases from “overburden material” – soil that has been removed from above the quarried rock.  Mr. Luoma said that each construction phase would be about five years long and would involve 2,000′ to 2,500′ of length. There may be some period between phases while Trap Rock collects material for the next phase of berm construction. Leslie Sauer, a member of the Environmental Commission and the Stormwater Management Committee, expressed concern about the stability of the steep sides of the berms, the landscaping plan for the berms and the potential for environmental damage done during installation. Excavated material to be used in the berm will be trucked from place to place over a period of years before being deposited in its final resting place. Existing forest will be removed to accommodate the new berm and the interim placement of materials.

Board member Larry Coffey worried that with no significant flow of water through the new lake, the water will become stagnant.  “Because if water doesn’t move, doesn’t it turn green after a bit?”  Mr. Luoma replied, “At this depth, no. Not really.”

At the more recent meeting the focus was on the township’s experts who questioned many aspects of the plan. Wayne Ferren, an environmental consultant; Matt Mulhall, the township’s hydrogeologist; and Richard Young, a structural geologist all had questions and comments about the reclamation plan that Trap Rock Industries had submitted to the board.

Mr. Ferren expressed a great deal of concern in his report about the clarity and completeness of the reclamation plan presented by Trap Rock, amd its compliance with the Township ordinance.  While much Trap Rock’s plan may have met the letter of the law, it did not – in his opinion – meet the intent.  Where evidence of permits was required, Trap Rock had instead referred to separate past documents that were not directly a part of the reclamation plan, but that also required the same evidence.  Where a “plan” was required, Trap Rock had submitted a “program”; where “maps” were required, they had submitted “plans”.  His concern was shared by board member and Mayor Susan Lockwood.  Holding up the reclamation plan booklet, she said:  “Reading this, I get nothing out of it.  This document has got to survive for future use.”  At Mr. Ferren’s suggestion, the board is requiring a chart showing the status of each permit for which Trap Rock had applied.

Township hydrogeologist Matt Mulhall shared his concern about the potential for future removal of rock to draw water away from existing wells on Seabrook Road.  He recommends a comprehensive groundwater monitoring plan to look at groundwater levels and to see whether quarry expansion is dewatering neighbors’ wells.  A 1979 study of the property, commissioned by Trap Rock, recommended the same, but that recommendation has not been followed. Seventeen wells were drilled as part of the 1979 study but now Trap Rock’s experts are uncertain of their location, current condition, and viability for use in monitoring groundwater levels. Trap Rock geologist Thomas Gillespie indicated that, although the firm itself might benefit from monitoring,  there was no hurry to start; beginning data collection could be put off another 24 to 48 years. Planning Board Chairman Ken Hyman stressed the benefit to both Trap Rock and its neighbors, and indicated that the Planning Board might recommend starting to collect data in the near future. The Planning Board, as the reviewing agency has the prerogative to make recommendations; the Township Committee has the duty to choose which of these recommendations to enact.

Structural geologist Richard Young had a number of questions regarding the stability of the rock faces that remain after the quarrying is complete.  His opinion is that the rock formation at this quarry is tight and stable, but still the “joints” – small fissures in the rock faces – should be monitored with successive blasts to reassure Trap Rock and the township of the stability of each “bench”. Benches are the step-like features that comprise the walls of the quarry and enable access to the bottom.

The Planning Board does not meet in August, so the hearing will continue on Tuesday, September 2 at 8 pm.  At that time, the board will hear a report from its own engineer, Peter Turek.