After other necessary business was quickly out of the way, Monday evening's supervisors meeting focused on the proposed Roberts Trucking expansion project. As promised at the previous meeting, Kirk Hill brought larger drawings giving everyone a better idea of their plans and, after presenting an overview of the expansion, spent more than an hour listening to area residents and responding to their questions.
The drawings show two warehouses placed very close to South Washington Street with loading docks on the south and west side of the buildings. There will be no docks on, or exit for trucks to, South Washington, they will be routed through the current warehouse lot and over a bridge to what is now the Bemiss property. The expansion will generate an estimated 20 to 30 more trucks per day to the facility in addition to the current 60 to 80. Operation will be 24 hours, 7 days per week.
The plans show a driveway to South Washington, though it was stated no trucks would use that access and supervisors noted that restriction could be written into the permit if granted.
Kirk Hill stated that, beginning very soon, the company would begin planting more trees (Norwegian Spruce) along the north side of their current property and those would be carried through to the new property if the purchase, rezoning and expansion goes forward. The Norwegian Spuce was chosen because of the dense branches and ability to withstand the wind and weather in that location. They would be approximately 6 foot tall when planted and expected to grow 14 to 20 inches per year. These trees are supposed to provide a visual barrier, but are also supposed to absorb sound from the trucks and operations, a statement that was met with skepticism from many residents.
Paving the lots
Hill also noted the intention is to pave the current lot and the new lot with concrete, though they have been filling the current lot with stone and are waiting for it to settle before doing so. Since the lot has been in place for 7 years, residents wondered if the new lot would be unpaved for that long as well and how the Route 86 highway could be built and paved so quickly if 7 years of settling was required before Roberts could do the same.
There were many questions about traffic on Route 89 and what could be done to minimize issues, both current and potential if the expansion proceeds. Traffic lights at the entrance and possibly at Law Road were discussed, though the stopping, starting and accelerating of trucks could increase the noise which is already an issue. Making the road wider, possibly extending the 4 lane portion from the south past the Roberts entrance was mentioned. Residents stated that trucks prohibited from South Washington Street were now using Law Road, which is also prohibited.
In response to a comment, Hill wanted to emphasize the economic benefit to North East from the payroll and jobs the company generates and the work they do with a wide range of companies in the North East area, which is certainly true. This company doesn't just create noise and dust, but the residents in the area want to make clear that how the company's operations fit into their current location, can have a negative effect, as well. If one person has a job driving a forklift, but someone else can't sell their house because of the noise and dust and truck traffic, how do you measure the economic effect? The company built the facility with the benefit of the LERTA program to reduce property taxes in early years so the township has not yet received the full benefit of the taxes which will eventually come due. The new expansion will likewise benefit, so the period when it is a full tax paying property is still some years away.
When do you address the issues?
In a discussion about how a conditional use permit was required to build this facility in a commercial zone to begin with, supervisor Vern Frye made the observation that no one objected to many of the things residents are bringing up now. There is an obvious reason. Residents were not intimately familiar with the operation of a truck warehousing facility like the one currently in place. No one thinks about back up alarms at 3AM or banging on a truck rim in the repair facility at 1AM or clouds of dust from an unpaved parking lot or truck traffic through residential neighborhoods. It's not until they experience it that it becomes apparent. The company may have known, but it had every reason not to bring it up, and to hope no one else would either, so they could get the approval and go ahead. They would have done better had they kept those issues to a minimum once the facility was operating to keep these objections from coming up now when the company wants to expand. Efforts to alleviate the issues at this stage do not instill confidence that their concern will carry through if they get the green light.
It is extremely important to ask the questions before any approval is granted. Some comments about how much noise was being generated resulted in little comment from Mr Hill, which gives the impression that it's just one of the costs nearby residents will have to absorb. It's also a reminder that fixing problems once a facility is in place, is very difficult.