In 2007, Tamaqua Borough Council Member Cathy Miorelli learned that some 33 dump truck loads of New Jersey sewage sludge were dumped on a field about 75 yards from the Still Creek reservoir, which lies in Packer Township, Carbon County, and which is the source of drinking water for Tamaqua and other communities. The PA DEP first claimed there was no record of sludge being dumped, couldn't find any permits. But as all good activists, Cathy is nothing if not persistent. In response to more pressure, Tim Craven of DEP then said it was "lime," then corrected himself when Cathy sent him photos. She also succeeded in getting a stonewalling media to print stories, letters, and an editorial that put a spotlight on Packer Township. Then she talked to Tom Gerhart, Chair of the Packer Township Board of Supervisors, and told him about the Tamaqua ordinance.
It took some six months until the supervisors here, impressed with what they were learning, made a motion to advertise their own ordinance to ban dumping. At that meeting, Ben Price, from CELDF, who gave a 40 minute presentation, followed by Q&A. Old Tom Gerhart (the Supervisor's father and a retired County Commissioner) made a speech that was crusty and supportive. Cathy Miorelli spoke and thanked the Board for considering the ordinance. After that, there were a number of informational public meetings and flyers explaining the ordinance were distributed. Their solicitor, who had worked with Tamaqua, urged the supervisors not to “make a bad move.” On the other hand, a number of farmers asked probing questions and decided to support the ordinance.
At the vote the room was filled to capacity. Tom thought that when it came down to their three supervisors voting, one would certainly oppose. Before the vote, he asked the crowd in the room for a show of hands in favor of the ordinance. Because of the overwhelming support, and because it’s a supervisor’s duty to protect the health and safety of his community, he changed his mind.
Not only was the vote unanimous, the entire room gave the supervisors a standing ovation. The ordinance here in Packer is one of the most strict passed by any community. Cathy attended this meeting and remarked that there was zero corruption in this room – no hidden agendas, no ties, secret or not so secret, to dumpers and others who benefit, no backroom good old boy deals.
PACKER TOWNSHIP KICKS IT UP A NOTCH
There was however a quick reaction from the state. Officials from the Attorney General’s office called to say they wanted to meet privately with the supervisors. Reaction was swift and unequivocal. They voted an amendment to the ordinance that the Township would no longer recognize the authority of the attorney general’s office to enforce any law that denied the right to local self-government for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the community.
CELDF has volunteered to represent the township at no cost. The community and supervisors have been written up in the newspapers and they have gotten calls from municipalities in other states like Maryland. In this way, the word spreads and others can take courage from these folks standing up for those they represent.
TOM GERHART: "We will not meet behind closed doors. We don’t want to do anything behind the backs of our residents. We are standing our ground and we will take our chances. You can either complain or you step forward and take charge and do something about it."
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL OF PENNSYLVANIA
From the Board of Township Supervisors, Packer Township, Carbon County
Dear Attorney General Corbett,
The people of Packer Township are in receipt of your letter, dated June 23, 2008. In it, the office of the Attorney General informs us that Packer Township resident Mr. Clyde Hinkle requested your office “review” the Packer Township Local Control, Sewage Sludge and Chemical Trespass Ordinance.
According to your letter to us, “[Act 38] authorizes the Office, in its discretion, to file a lawsuit against the municipality if, upon review, the Office believes that the ordinance unlawfully limits or restricts a normal agricultural operation.” We write to inform you that the Ordinance was adopted with majority support of the people within Packer Township, via the Township Supervisors, and that therefore, the Ordinance will not be rescinded, and that we will not negotiate away any portion of it.
The ACRE law was drafted and adopted by agribusiness corporate interests, using the legislature as a vehicle, and was not passed to aid family farmers, but agribusiness interests. It is an undemocratic and illegitimate law under a system in which the consent of the people directly affected by such governing decisions is made irrelevant. The Attorney General's office is administering an illegitimate and therefore unconstitutional law, and we refuse to recognize its enforceability.
If the Attorney General's office pursues this matter, please be aware that the Township is reviewing for adoption an amendment to the Ordinance that refuses to recognize that the Attorney General has any jurisdiction within this municipality to enforce a law which runs so contrary to democratic principles.
Additionally, should you determine it to be a matter of state interest to attempt to use the courts to deprive the people of Packer Township of their rights, including a right to self-government, and a healthy environment, any offer to meet with the elected representatives of this community to “negotiate” a voluntary surrender of those rights will be rejected.
Packer Township Board of Supervisors, RR 1, Weatherly, PA 18255
After sending this letter, the Packer Board did indeed vote to revoke the Attorney General’s “authority to enforce undemocratic law that nullifies community rights.” They committed into the township’s legal framework a new Ordinance to not “surrender community members’ rights to the State, which purports to have empowered its top law enforcement officer to act as private litigator for the waste hauling industry.”
By adopting this amendment, the members of the Board of Supervisors will be honoring their obligation to act on behalf of the people in their community, and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people and environment in which they live. In order to keep community members abreast of developments in this effort to defend the right to local self-determination against State and corporate usurpation, Township residents are invited to join the Supervisors on Tuesday, September 16th at the Township building for a review and discussion of developments so far.
WHAT THEY LEARNED
--It’s about education and communication. This means mailings, use of the internet, phone banks, emails, door to door, face to face meetings.
--It helps to have an advocate run for office (like Cathy) to be aware of those things like the emails you are not supposed to see. You have to stay alert.
--Persistence is key. Cathy says: You never give up. Whatever the setbacks and frustrations, you have to keep moving forward. Sometimes I think I should just get out of here, but where would we go? We have to fight where we live.
--You have to have a support system when you take on these issues, from your family, sympathetic friends and neighbors. These fights are long and require that activists can keep on keeping on without burning out.
--A small group of people can make a difference as Margaret Mead is often quoted: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
--A continuing theme from those involved in Tamaqua is networking, with others both in the community and outside the community. The realization that their problems are shared by others across the country, gives them strength, confidence and clarity. Although they may be on the frontlines, they are not in this struggle alone.
May 5th, 2010
by Joe Pasko, Times News
March 24th, 2010
March 17th, 2010