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SGI seeks change to tap ancient lava

Richard D. L. Fulton

(11/20) The Hamiltonban Township Board of Supervisors voted at their November 6 meeting to forward their comments regarding a proposed zoning change to the county planning agency for review.

The comments explicitly address a request presented by Specialty Granules, Inc. (SGI), formerly ISP Minerals, to change the zoning of a 110-acre parcel located in the township.

The purpose would be to change the existing zoning of Woodland Conservation to Industrial to permit SGI to expand its currently existing quarrying operation into the 110-acre parcel.

SGI, which quarries metabasalt deposits in Hamiltoban for use as granules in the manufacture of shingles, want to quarry a significant deposit metabasalt which lies in the 110-acre tract in question. Metabasalt was initially lava some 500 million years ago that flowed from a prehistoric volcano.

The deposit was initially mined for copper as early as 1833, but is also known to contain flake gold in other areas. Some of the old mines remain although few are accessible due to ceiling collapses.

The tract of land involved was previously part of the Glatfelter Tree Farm No. 1, previously owned by Glatfelter Pulpwood Company, which had been acquired through preservation efforts and made part of the Michaux State Forest, administered by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

SGI (then still ISP) acquired the land through what some, especially among those who were involved in raising the funds to acquire the land for the state, and effort that began as far back as 2007, viewed as a controversial exchange with the DCNR.

January 2008, The Conservation Fund headed-up the acquisition of the old tree farm at a price tag of $12.5 million, officially turning the property over to DCNR in May 2010.

Sometime thereafter, in 20120, talks began to take place between SGI and the DCNR regarding an exchange of land by which the DCNR would acquire three isolated pockets of private land physically located within Michaux State Forest in exchange for tuning over the 110-acre, metabasalt-bearing tract to SGI.

Although the exchange met with resistance from the organizations, municipal, private and non-profit, involved, the trade was approved in 2011.

However, to actually begin quarrying the metabasalt, SGI must acquire a zoning change that would allow the quarry to function as a conditional use. SGI would then have to apply for the condition use.

The township would not release their comments on the zoning change proposal at this time, stating the county had not had an opportunity to receive them.

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