Two Witnesses Take Stand in One Night at Curative Amendment Hearing

LOWER MILFORD – With testimony proceeding at a rapid pace, spectators saw two witnesses take the stand at the Township Municipal Building Tuesday night during the Geryville Materials curative amendment hearing.

Lower Milford Township Supervisors Michael Snovitch, William Roy, Donna Wright, and attorneys John Embick and Linus Fenicle prepare to begin the Geryville Materials curative amendment hearing Tuesday night. Photo by Judd Wilson, Southern Lehigh Tribune.

York-based forester Jeffrey Gossert returned to the witness stand after several hours of testimony on Sept. 28.  Township attorney John Embick and Lower Milford Residents’ Association attorney Pat Armstrong queried Gossert on his calculation methods and estimates.  Gossert said he had “no idea” of what the site’s post-mining reclamation use would be.  His purpose, he said, was simply to inventory the number of 6-inch or wider trees on the proposed Geryville quarry site in order to calculate the number of required replacement trees. 

While Gossert said the woodlands were “healthy” overall, he mentioned the “imminent threat coming throughout Pennsylvania” posed by the emerald ash borer.  Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding ordered a hardwoods quarantine of 43 counties in western and central Pennsylvania on Aug. 9 in an attempt to stop the spread of this foreign pest.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees in North America.  The U.S. Forest Service says it probably came to North America on cargo shipping vessels from Asia in the mid-1990s.

After excusing Gossert at 8:30 p.m., Geryville Materials attorney Paul Ober introduced Gregg Eshelman to the witness stand.  Eshelman owns and operates Plow Farms and Eshelman Transportation in Mohnton.  Ober had the 35-year veteran nurseryman detail his qualifications as an expert witness in his industry.  Embick frequently asked pointed questions which demanded quick responses and intense concentration from Eshelman.  Attorney Linus Fenicle, who presided over the hearing, usually overruled Ober’s occasional objections in order to induce the witness to speak for himself. 

Attorney Linus Fenicle presides over the Geryville Materials curative amendment hearing at the Lower Milford Township Municipal Building Tuesday night. Photo by Judd Wilson, Southern Lehigh Tribune.

Since Eshelman regularly brokers purchases from other nurseries to complete orders his 80,000-tree nursery cannot fulfill alone, Ober asked him to testify about the availability of replacement trees needed at the proposed Geryville site.  Using Gossert’s calculations, Eshelman contacted 438 nurseries in 11 states as far west as Iowa.  Even by stretching out the replacement process over several years, said Eshelman, inadequate supplies exist on the continental United States to fully replace several dozen different tree species affected by the proposed quarry operation.  Only trees grown in the ground will survive in Pennsylvania, said Eshelman.  Trees grown in containers in states such as Florida will die in Pennsylvania’s climate. 

Citing the requirement for over 13,000 replacement white ash trees 3.5 inches and wider, Eshelman said he only found 280 available in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.  Including the 9,100 available in Virginia, North Carolina, and westward to Iowa, Eshelman predicted a shortfall of over 4,000 white ash trees alone. 

According to Eshelman, it takes one year for a tree to grow one-quarter of one inch in caliper width.  He said nurseries do not typically grow many large caliper-width trees because they tie up resources for many years and aren’t popular due to their high prices.  Eshelman explained that installing a 6-inch wide tree requires a large track loader and a backhoe.  They average 4,000 pounds in weight and have a 60-inch wide and deep root bulb.    

The witness had only begun to discuss the cost of replacing and installing trees when the hearing was adjourned for the evening.  The next curative amendment hearing will be held at the Township Municipal Building at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 23.

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