Last updated: February 4, 2019 - 1:13pm
SALEM TWP. — A big public hearing on whether to create an Agricultural Security Area here has been rescheduled after officials learned that the township may already have such a region.
“We need to know if we are holding a hearing for the establishment of an Agricultural Security Area or an extension of an Agricultural Security Area,” said township solicitor Anthony McDonald.
Tuesday’s hearing has been rescheduled for 6 p.m. March 4 at the township offices — still well before the March 30 deadline by which supervisors must vote if it turns out they’re establishing a new Agricultural Security Area. If they don’t act by then, the designation already goes through.
The hearing is expected to be a crowded one — opponents, who fear it would make it easier for farmers to convert to concentrated animal feeding operations, have been rallying supporters on social media.
Land in Agricultural Security Areas get special consideration regarding nuisance lawsuits and local ordinances involving normal farming activities, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
McDonald said someone raised the possibility that the township already has an Agricultural Security Area on Friday, after the hearing had been advertised.
Since then, he and staff have found what he called “more than circumstantial, but less than definitive evidence” that the area already exists.
That evidence includes a letter dated Feb. 14, 1989, from William Dagostin saying that he and nine other landowners were petitioning for 915 acres to become part of an Agricultural Security Area, McDonald said.
At the bottom of the page was a note that appeared to be written in Dagostin’s hand reminding supervisors that they didn’t have to do anything — if they didn’t take action, the new designation would automatically go through.
Then, in July of 1992, Law Environmental Inc., which was evaluating the entire state to see where might be suitable for a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility, wrote to the township asking for any information about an Agricultural Security Area within Salem.
The secretary at the time, Sandra Shuman, wrote back with a list of parcels she said was in the area, along with the names of the landowners.
Some of those parcel numbers don’t match the current parcel numbers, McDonald said.
But the names include William Dagostin, Theron Canouse, Carl Hosler, Francis Michelini (trustee), Frederick Shultz, Helen Rinehimer, Shirley Rinehimer, George Shultz, Frederick Switzer and Paul Young.
In 1999, the Luzerne County Planning Commission sent a letter to the chairman of the board of supervisors asking for information about the Agricultural Security Area passed in the 1990s and seeking the resolution and meeting minutes so it could be documented and recorded with the state.
But so far, McDonald said, he hasn’t been able to find that resolution or meeting minutes. The township secretary, Patricia Fritz, was off Friday and Monday, and McDonald hasn’t had time to go to the Luzerne County Courthouse to check for documentation there.
The state has no record of any existing Agricultural Security Area in Salem Township, said spokesman Will Nichols.
So the township continued the hearing, McDonald said. It announced the decision on its website and Facebook page, as well as posted it at the township building. He also called the paper to help get word out.
Susan Schwartz covers the Berwick area. She can be reached at 570-387-1234 ext. 1306 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PESueSchwartz.