It was in 1898 when the East and West plants of the former New Jersey Zinc Company in Palmerton began operations. A zinc smelting facility, it discharged metals into the surrounding environment. Today, Palmerton continues to deal with metal contamination.
To their credit, the residents and businesses of the area have made the most of the area resources, hoping that after Palmerton Zinc was declared a Superfund Site that remediation efforts were forthcoming and environmental improvements would be made to the area.
In 2003, Trustees for the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site Natural Resource Damage Assessment, under the auspices of the federal Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) of the United States Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began damage assessment of the Palmerton Superfund Site.
The Trustees are comprised of representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, NOAA, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Pennsylvania Game Commission. The U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Services is acting as lead trustee.
An assessment plan was completed in 2006 and in 2009 the Trustees and potentially responsible parties reached a settlement of a cash payment of $9.875 million and the transfer of nearly 1,300 acres of property (Kings Manor property) to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to be used for wildlife and wildlife habitat. Additionally, there was an agreement for the Trustees $2.5 million damage assessment costs to be reimbursed and a $300,000 mortgage on the Lehigh Gap Nature Center was discharged.
In May of this year, the Trustees produced a draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, which can be read in its entirety online at: http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/restorationplans/Palmerton/palmerton.cfm .
The proposal calls for the funds to be used for: habitat acquisition/easement protection of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Lehigh River Headwaters and other areas on Kittatinny Ridge and the Lehigh River; a Lower Lehigh River Dam removal feasibility study; a Parryville access site for fishing on the Lehigh River; and restoration and enhancement of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
While I appreciate the effort and thought that went into the proposal, I believe that it is imperative that the bulk of the settlement money be utilized in the Palmerton area, which encompasses the Superfund Site.
The residents and businesses have waited patiently for a settlement to remedy the impact of the nearly 100 years of smelting. Palmerton was the center of contamination for which the plan was intended to provide compensation and there are a variety of wonderful local public use projects that would benefit from these funds.
I have joined with a number of Palmerton officials and organizations in writing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, asking them to reconsider the Trustees' restoration plan. I urge the citizens of Palmerton and those in the nearby area to write and voice their concerns, as well.
Letters should be sent to: Dr. Kathleen Patnode, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pennsylvania Field Office, 315 South Allen Street, Suite 322, State College, PA 16801.
Rep. Keith McCall