Friday, July 8, 2011

Dennis Lieb and Planning Commission Say No to Chrin

Dennis Lieb is still Easton's top watchdog

Posted by: Noël Jones

The backstory:

A waiver is required for any company that might want to build a waste facility within 900 feet of a city park in Easton, and Chrin wants to build one near Hugh Moore Park. Mayor Panto, who used to work for Chrin, put an item on the city council agenda a few months back, asking council to approve a special waiver for Chrin, without review. Vice-Mayor Elinor Warner, who is the council member that started the Environmental Advisory Committee, was concerned, and moved that the waiver be referred to the committee for review, which led to a review by Easton's Planning Commission. The first review was relatively uncontroversial, but commissioners raised concerns about possible regulatory issues if the facility should want to expand in the future. The commission postponed their decision and asked Chrin to come back with more information.

According to Planning Commissioner Dennis Lieb, Ed Sieger's article in yesterday's Express-Times treats what turned out to be a rather contentious meeting, delicately. Lieb actually posted a rather long and eloquent comment in response to the ET article, so don't forget to scroll down if you check the link.

Apparently, in response to the commission's concern over Chrin's 134 violations at the Williams Township landfill, which Chrin claims is minor compared to other facilities around the state, Chrin decided to come in with both barrels blazing and brought their attorney to lecture and scold the commission, and accuse a Williams Township activist, Kathy Lilly (that the commissioners had never heard of) of masterminding the commission's objections. He threatened to sue the city and
then suggested that the Chrin family has made donations to community projects in Easton in the past, and might continue to doing so, if the commission were to put their concerns aside and grant the waiver. 

This pissed off the entire commission, who had all done their own independent research and who had discovered that Chrin ranked #2 in the state for landfill violations. They voted unanimously to deny the waiver. Lieb let them know in no uncertain (or delicate) terms that they were not going to be able to bully Easton into special treatment:

"When I had my turn to speak I indicated that I had three pages of researched comments I had intended to address supporting my intention to vote no, but that I wasn't going to bother since the conduct of their attorney had so biased my opinion against them that this in itself had sealed my decision. I then told Chrin's reps that I had made my decision based on weighing the technical merits of composting vs. the possible negative consequences but had never had my intelligence insulted to the degree that their attorney had just accomplished. I made the following points before registering my vote:
1) Kathy Lilly was not a party to the planning submission and her name had never come up in discussion until he mentioned her. I have never spoken to the woman but I do have other contacts in the township and made use of their expertise in evaluating my decision. Be this as it may, Kathy Lilly was not on trial at our meeting and trying her in absentia was a violation of her rights...if she had been on trial she would have had the right to be present and be represented by an attorney - strike one.
2) The fact that Chrin should be commended for "only' having 134 (actually 138 but who's counting) violations of a potential 15,000+ was ludicrous. It was the equivalent to me going out on the street after the meeting and "only" breaking 2 or 3 of a potential 500 local laws and not considering myself a criminal - strike two.
3)  Finally, the lawyer's comments that the Chrin family has spread their financial largess around the neighboring communities for years and that the next generation of heirs would like to continue that in the future may have been his way of making the company look more favorable in the eyes of the commissioners, but personally speaking It gave me the uncomfortable impression of a veiled threat that their future contributions depended somehow on our vote on this issue. I don't remember if I specifically stated it - since the conversation had become heated by then - but I couldn't help help taking that as direct insult to the integrity of the commission - strike three.  "

Lieb says this will all come up again because as an advisory board, city council can choose to ignore the Planning Commission's 6-0 vote against the operation and still grant the waiver. 

According to the Code of Ethics under Home Rule Charter, Mayor Panto, as a former Chrin employee, should not be voting on this. I know the argument, that it's a small town, and that everyone knows everyone and is related to everyone and has worked with everyone else, but the mayor needs to be as conscious of public perception as he is of ethics themselves, especially when he has yet to appoint anyone to the Board of Ethics, when the structure has been in place for three years under Home Rule Charter, and is supposed to be reviewing decisions of the mayor and council annually. The mayor must recuse himself from this vote.

We are lucky to have commissioners like Dennis Lieb standing up for Easton residents. The last thing he said when I talked to him about this was, "I just hope that most of the commissioners and others with experience dealing with Chrin attend the council meeting when this comes up, so an accurate portrayal of this company's behavior so far is in the record."


peterkc said...

Dennis - I think you should write a very calm and factual response to Greg Chrin's absurd op-ed in today's Morning Call, in which he praised Chrin & derided Kathy Lilly -- as if consistent opposition made her suspect. -Peter

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Easton’s Planning Commission for doing their homework. Their investigation shows Chrin’s extremely poor record in meeting local codes, commitments, agreements, and DEP/EPA regulations. He'll promise anything to get what he wants, but never deliver. It’s “catch me if you can, and if you do, I'll see you in court.”

Karen.Feridun said...

If anyone is interested in reviewing just some of Chrin's permit violations, check out

I'd also like to thank Dennis Lieb for bringing up the issue of the spreading of treated sewage sludge, or biosolids, on our farmland. A PA Supreme Court ruling in 2009 gave the Attorney General the right to challenge attempts by municipalities to restrict agriculture, even if those restrictions were in place before the passage of the ACRE law. In 2007, the Commonwealth Court had ruled that challenges to pre-ACRE restrictions could only be made when municipalities attempted to enforce them. The higher court ruling changed that, stripping municipalities of local control. Mr. Lieb is correct. AG Corbett was more than happy to enforce the ACRE law when he filed a legal brief against the residents of East Brunswick Township in Schuylkill County in 2008. He famously said at the time, "There is no inherent right to local self-government."

Sewage sludge fertilizer is poorly regulated by both the DEP and EPA. For more information on the issue, visit The United Sludge-Free Alliance's website. The USFA is a Berks County-based grassroots organization fighting the spreading of sewage sludge fertilizer.

Are there worms in heaven? said...

I think Chrin thought if they used the words recycling or composting everybody would fall over from the greeness of it. Fact is composting is a complex science. Management of it not anything the Chrin's have studied or have any expertise in.

Re: suing. A waiver is exactly that a waiver. There is a regulation in place for every body else why would they think they can sue because "no" was said to them.

They are so rich with the pollution they have brought into our area they are quite comfortable threatening lawsuits.

Lets ban together with other groups that are wise to them. the bully needs to meet a bigger bully.

noel jones said...

Are there worms in heaven? said...

"I think Chrin thought if they used the words recycling or composting everybody would fall over from the greeness of it."

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Kathy Lilley said...

I’m not sure if Easton residents are aware of this, but landfills are not supposed to smell off site. Properly run landfills throughout the state don’t. I was not aware of this until I read the regulations back in 2007. Up until then, I thought when I drove by the landfill on Route 78, I should just expect to smell the stench of garbage, rotten egg smell, etc.

At that time I was part of a group of residents that had just learned that the Chrin Landfill wanted to expand and they had been in talks with township supervisors to change zoning to allow for an expansion. Other residents and I maintained the position that we had no issues with the landfill as long as it was in compliance with the regulations, we simply didn’t support an expansion. 1800+ residents’ signatures on a petition stating this position were shared with our supervisors.

It wasn’t until early 2008 that some residents and I began to carefully read documentation in the PA DEP files that we realized there was indeed a significant issue with compliance at the landfill. We have only focused on a couple of problem areas such as off site odors and gas collection & destruction. Other areas such as operations outside the permit boundaries, over weight trucks, etc. haven’t been looked at yet.

At one point, I wrote a letter to Mayor Panto informing him of the regulations and offered to meet with him about the odor problem at the landfill….(silly me…I didn’t realize he had worked for Chrin previously). When I didn’t get a reply to my letter I called his office and spoke with Mayor Panto. He explained to me that there were no odor problems at the landfill and if residents in Southside Easton smelled the landfill, he would know about it because they would complain to his office. He went on to say that the landfill was very well run.

After my conversation with Mayor Panto, I met with a number of residents on Southside who told me they smell the landfill frequently they simply don’t have the time to “fight “ the issue.

On December 1, 2009, at a DEP Hearing held at Wilson Area High School, regarding the Chrin Landfill permit renewal, Mayor Panto spoke out on behalf of the landfill. He did offer a disclaimer that he had previously worked for Chrin, but he once again shared that it is a well run landfill and has no odor problems. He encouraged the DEP to renew the landfill permit, which they did later that month. (There was a stenographer at the meeting so all of what I'm saying can easily be verified.)

The DEP is a state agency that claims to be understaffed. They have not been diligent in enforcing regulations at the landfill for years, when they had more staff. The question I would suggest Easton residents ask is how well would they regulate a composting facility given their scare resources? Also what recourse would residents have if the regulations weren’t enforced? Williams Township residents know the answer to that question.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

I commend everyone for engaging in an important discussion. I wish the public had more time to attend our meetings in person - they can be enlightening as well as entertaining. I'm sure the current state of the economy (and our screwed up country in general) has much to do with lowered attendance so I won't lecture anyone on it.

I dealt briefly with Mayor Panto during his time at Chrin when I was engaged in a water filtration business many years ago. At the time he was primarily involved with the housing development sector of their business so I have no comment on what he may or may not know about the landfill.

I can say from my own research (and the tireless efforts of commissioners Robert Sun and Charles Elliott, who brought much to the table on this issue) that I have found many troubling aspects within the industrial scale-up of composting, beyond just the concern of who is running the operation.

Extremely problematic outcomes have been documented in both Georgia and Illinois, where the issues have included failed public/private partnerships, bankruptcies, lack of market for the end product, mechanical failures, smell and vermin problems. I have also read executive summaries of research papers that indicate possible health hazards of these operations - including those to plant workers.

Perhaps the most disturbing findings were two press releases that a former EPA official in Georgia had sued the state office of EPA and the University of Georgia for fabricating false reports that indicated adding sewage sludge to the composting stream had no ill effects on public health. At the time, UGA was trying to obtain a federal contract. According to the story;
"The university is one of five finalists to house the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will study emerging terrorist and natural disease pandemics."

Here are links to those reports:

We live in overly-technical times. Our society is fragile on every level. In order to deal with such problems my credo is simple...
Vigilance, Diligence, Perseverance

Good luck to us all,