As I gathered my notepad and cell phone from the car outside of a rustic home along East Valley Road east of Loganton, it felt as though I was about to walk into a scene from a John Grisham book.
In this small country home, I was soon to get details of a potentially large threat to the environment from a small group of concerned citizens. They had grown weary of the corporate stonewalls, and legal minefield they repeatedly ran into while trying to protect their communities — a scene that deserved some heroic Matt Damon-like resolve straight from the “Rainmaker” movie.
Instead, they got me.
Just a week after I started my new job as the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper in mid-February, my goal was to gather information in an effort to carry on the torch of my predecessor, Carol Parenzan. He had first raised red flags about Nicholas Meats, and the impact the rapidly expanding business could have on the Sugar Valley Watershed, and the nearby Fishing Creek.
Fishing Creek is a nearly 43-mile tributary to the Bald Eagle Creek — and eventually the West Branch of the Susquehanna. It features prized Class A fishing waters with populations of wild brown and brook trout. The creek flows through the Tylersville Hatchery, and near the Lamar National Fish Hatchery.
The meeting at the Loganton-area home provided numerous facts, figures and updates about the Nicholas Meats expansions. The company requested permits to draw additional water from the region’s underground aquifer — the same groundwater pool that feeds Fishing Creek.
Current proposals would allow the company to draw upwards of 120 gallons of water per minute (nearly 173,000 gallons a day) from the aquifer — water that would be used for the cooling, cleaning and processing of raw meat from Nicholas Meats’ slaughterhouse. Additional plans for expansion within the next 15 years could increase that need for water to close to 700,000 gallons of water per day.
The permits need to be approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), which is looking for public comment as part of their efforts to fully investigate the request before making a decision.
In a Zoom meeting with Andrew Dehoff, Todd Eaby and Gene Veno, of SRBC, along with three concerned Sugar Valley residents, the residents found out the SRBC and Fish and Boat Commission recently visited the site and are requesting more studies and information. The SRBC has hit a few dead ends with certain landowners that have wells and springs, which would provide valuable information via testing before any concrete decision is made.
The SRBC did relay that Nicholas Meats is looking to hopefully add a wastewater digester in the future that would allow them to re-use upwards of 90 percent of the water, but that could take several years.
Ultimately, the SRBC carries the heavy burden of making a decision that factors in what is best for the communities in that region both financially (Nicholas Meats offers an economic boost) and environmentally (both immediate and long-range impacts).
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is committed to protecting our valuable network of freshwater tributaries along the Susquehanna River, knowing that issues such as these can have quite a large ripple effect throughout the greater watershed.
We will continue to stay involved with this situation and look forward to the potential of in-person meetings between the SRBC and the residents of the Sugar Valley Watershed.
We urge people in that region to provide whatever information they can about their wells and any concerns they may have directly with the SRBC.
We also encourage everyone throughout the Middle Susquehanna watershed, especially those who have a vested interest in our trout fisheries, to look closer at the situation, share information with other anglers and provide public feedback to the SRBC while there is still time.
If you’d like to reach out to the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association on this matter, you can email John Zaktansky directly at firstname.lastname@example.org