Packer supers take stand on biosolids,
September 17th, 2008
The fight in Packer Township isn’t just about biosolids anymore. It’s about the people’s right to self government.
The Packer Township Board of Supervisors on Tuesday held a town hall meeting to update its citizens on the probability of a court battle with the state office of Attorney General Tom Corbett over the township’s Local Control, Sewage Sludge and Chemical Trespass Ordinance.
Adopted by the township on June 11, the ordinance imposes local regulations on top of those currently mandated by the state Department of Environmental Protection regarding the use of the treated sewage sludge called biosolids, which the state regulates and permits as a soil fertilizer in farming operations.
The Packer Township ordinance also asserts the constitutional right of residents of the township to refuse “chemical bodily trespass” by corporations that would attempt to dump biosolids on the land.
The likelihood of a court battle over the ordinance started taking shape on June 23 when the township received notice from the office of Attorney General Tom Corbett that a review of the ordinance was underway and that a lawsuit could be filed against the township if Corbett’s office determined that the ordinance unlawfully limits or restricts normal agricultural operations in the township.
In response to Corbett’s notice, the board of supervisors drew a line in the sand and announced — in an open letter that was mailed to Corbett’s Harrisburg office and sent to several regional newspapers for publication — intentions to stand by the ordinance and deny the attorney general’s jurisdiction in the municipality “to enforce a law that runs so contrary to democratic principles.”
On Sept. 2, the supervisors unanimously approved advertisement of an amendment to the ordinance that denies the attorney general’s authority to enforce what the supervisors term “an illegitimate law” that denies “community self-governing rights to the people.” Advertisement of intent paves the way for the amendment’s anticipated adoption at the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 14.
The supervisors called Tuesday’s town hall meeting to brief citizens on the events that led to the township’s current stand-off with the Attorney General’s office, and to inform them that litigation is likely.
“These are your supervisors, elected by you to speak for you. They are your voice. If you agree with what they’re doing, show them your support. If you don’t agree with what they’re doing, you’ve got to speak up and let them know that you don’t agree,” Ben Price, community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, told approximately 50 citizens who attended the meeting.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has been providing cost-free legal and organizational support to the township in its anti-sludge efforts.
According to Price, sludge is a symptom of the primary issue, which is the state’s attempt to usurp the self-governing rights of the people.
“We have a real clear legal disagreement going on here. The Attorney General is saying that no Pennsylvanian has a right to self-government in the municipalities where they live. The township supervisors are saying, ‘Mr. Attorney General, we believe you are acting beyond your authority,’” Price said. “Who is acting beyond whose authority? Is it the people who insist on having the right to refuse poison? Or is it the Attorney General who believes the people don’t have the right to make that decision?”
Every citizen offering comment at the meeting voiced support for the township’s stand.
Resident Jack Walters suggested the citizens organize a protest in Harrisburg.
Citizen Joe Korshalla recommended turning the story over to national television news outlets.
Price assured the citizens that one of the most powerful ways to make their case is adoption of the ordinance and standing behind the supervisors when the heat is on.
Annette Etchberger of New Ringgold in neighboring East Brunswick Township where the municipal anti-sludge ordinance was challenged in court, expressed admiration toward the Packer Township Board for their firm stance in the face of certain litigation.
The East Brunswick Township Supervisors recently rescinded the township’s anti-sludge ordinance without waiting for the court to render a decision on the litigation.
“Many municipalities adopted formal resolutions in support of the brave stance our community took to assert our right not to be sludged against our consent,” Etchberger said, terming it an “inexcusable act of betrayal against the people of our community” when the East Brunswick Board of Supervisors rescinded the sludge ordinance “in a quiet, undemocratic, cowardly way.”
“My message here is to just stand strong and never surrender. We are passing the torch to your courageous supervisors who now must hold the torch, not just for this township, but for the entire state,” Etchberger said.
Tom Gerhard, Chairman of the Packer Township Board, said, “I’m telling you right now we’re standing behind it. We’re going forward with it.”