WILLIAMSBURG - A $5.4 million federal loan will not be released to the company proposing a quarry project in Catharine Township until the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigates comments from concerned residents and local groups after a recent environmental assessment of the plans.
USDA Pennsylvania State Director Tom Williams said the agency will revise an environmental assessment completed for Pittsburgh-based Gulf Trading & Transport LLC's quarry operation.
"What will happen now is exactly what happened before," Williams said, adding that another determination of no significant impact to the environment will have to be issued along with a revised environmental assessment before another period of public comment is allowed. "This is the way the system works."
Williams had no estimate of a time frame nor of specific revisions that could be made to the assessment, although he said the nearby Heller Caves and the Rails to Trails' Lower Trail, both in close proximity to the proposed quarry, were major concerns brought to the agency's attention.
One concern was brought up by the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, which sent a letter to the USDA saying that the quarry would have a "severe adverse impact on the Lower Trail and its users, local residents, the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River Important Bird Area and the Heller Caves Biological Diversity Area."
Concerned resident Norma Horton said she was "very happy" that the assessment would be redone.
"I think this is a very good thing that they're going to go back and look at it a little differently," Horton said. "There were so many groups who found so much wrong with the environmental assessment. Everybody concerned just wants to make sure the right thing is done."
There are currently 15 groups, from the Mid State Trail Association to the Pennsylvania Cave Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, that are opposed to quarrying and blasting within a quarter-mile of the caves and trail. More than 600 names have been added to a circulating petition opposing the project.