The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

SGI-DCNR land swap: good idea or bad?

SGI min seen from Blue Ridge Summit(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 4/12/2013)

There is a commercial on television that makes me chuckle every time I see it.

A guy comes on to tell us his doctor had long recommended taking a vitamin supplement every day. Not just any supplement, either. A particular brand.

Then along comes a survey that verifies the doctor’s recommendation. It shows that a vitamin supplement really helps maintain good health. Not just any supplement, either. A particular brand. The one made by the company that ran the survey. And the fellow on TV says that’s proof his doctor was right.

One cannot realistically expect a business to say someone else’s product is more beneficial to humans and other residents of the planet, so excuse me if I’m reserving judgment on what a local company says about it’s need to expand, and how the planned addition to its operation will not be harmful to flora, fauna and water down stream. It’s not that I don’t believe the company; just that I’d like to see some information from an independent expert or two.

The land in question is a part of the former Tree Farm Nr. One, a 2,500 acre tract formerly owned by Glatfelter, a paper maker in Springettsbury Township. The property lies adjacent to Iron Springs Road, west of Fairfield a short distance uphill from where the Tapeworm rail line was to cross before Thaddeus Stevens ran out of money and couldn’t build it. (Other financial resources came along later and built the current crossing nearby.)

Back in the day, paper companies liked to own the land from which they cut trees to make paper, but Glatfelter finally decided it didn’t want to pay property taxes while a new crop of trees grew to harvestable size.

A developer offered to buy the acreage, and proposed a plan to grow homes on five-acre chunks, effectively turning a natural water storage and filtration resource into a few hundred impervious homes and attendant roadways. That was a bad idea, I thought, especially considering the $7 million or more that would be required to build a new wastewater treatment plant to accommodate the new residents.

In November 2008, Adams County voters approved a measure – in a 3-to-1 vote, at the beginning of what was looking like serious economic hard times – allowing the county commissioners to borrow money to help buy the tree farm. Eventually, other sources came up with their shares, and paid off The Conservation Fund, which had fronted the $13-million asking price. The land was given to Michaux State Forest, to protect a portion of the county’s water supply and provide recreation for residents of the county and its surrounds.

Almost immediately, Specialty Granules Inc. offered a deal: It would trade three small parcels it owned in the forest for a like-sized contiguous parcel nearer its mines, from which, for many years, it has blasted a basalt mountain into the grit used on asphalt and fiberglass roofing. The additional parcel would, the company claims, extend the life of the mining operation.

How long? That’s less than clear, but the message is if the deal doesn’t go through, the company’s life is limited.

By how long? That’s also less than clear.

I’m in favor of companies making profits. Those profits are how we have many of the things we are able to buy – including handsome roofs for our homes.

And I also am not certain about whether, as area residents claim, the expanded mining will cause unpleasant noise pollution and the ruination of Tom’s Creek – though in the latter regard, I lean toward caution. It is much more difficult to clean a stream than to not dirty it in the first place.

There is a meeting scheduled 9 a.m., Saturday, at the Hamiltonban Township municipal office on Carrolls Tract Road, to work toward a decision whether to rezone the a portion of the former tree farm to allow SGI to mine there. I plan to be there, to hear why this land swap is a good idea. Or, maybe more importantly, why it is not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Note: At the Special Meeting Saturday morning, the Hamiltonban township Board of supervisors adopted rezoning the 100-acre piece requested by SGI. Supervisor Robert Gordon was quoted in “The Gettysburg Times” saying part of the rationale for the approval was that the company would leave if it could not expand its mining operation.


  1. Robert Ridgway, president pa geological society

    May 13, 2016 at 14:47

    The Pennsylvania Geological Society is concerned that the abandoned historic copper mines in this area will be destroyed without proper documentation.
    Please advise us of the present status of the 2,500 acre former tree farm tract of Michaud State Forest.

    • John

      May 13, 2016 at 15:14

      Your phrase “former tree farm” seems to indicate you know the tree farm is part of Michaux State Forest, thereby protecting virtually everything it contains. I know about the existence, though not the locations, of copper and iron mines in the area, some of which apparently are not in the forest. I am working on a project that will include some of that lore.

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