A packed Shenango Township Municipal Building on Thursday heard the economic pros and voiced their concerns during a public hearing over a proposed underground mine. 

Cemex is applying for a conditional use permit to expand mining activities in the southwest corner of Shenango Township. Under Cemex's plan, the company would mine underground 459 acres within a 593-acre area. That space is adjacent to a 70-acre site within 866 acres plot adjacent in Wayne Township where limestone — one of the four main ingredients in making cement — mining occurred before Cemex halted operations in 2010 at its Wampum cement plant due to a downturn in the economy.

The Wampum plant, opened in 1874, was the oldest operating cement plant in the country. New Castle attorney James W. Manolis, representing Cemex, said during the nearly three-hour hearing the expanded mine area and subsequent reopening of the Wampum plant would create approximately 100 jobs and generate $100 million annually.  

Mark Davies, Cemex USA director of cement resources, said at Thursday's hearing as a witness for Manolis that Wampum will see a $47 million impact from the mining and plant reopening. Davies said the total impact for Lawrence County is about $56 million and a similar number for Pennsylvania.  

"The total impact would be as much as $109 million with all of those entities combined," Davies said. "That is an annual figure."

The lifetime of the mine is projected at 31 years. 

Manolis also called Mark Phillian, from RAR Engineering Group in New Castle, to testify on the planning portion of the permit. Phillian said Cemex will employ the "room and pillar mining," which is the process of removing the mined material while leaving pillars in place to support the roof. That underground process will lead to mining under two township roads and one state road — Turkey Hill Road — should Cemex be granted a variance it is presenting to the township planning board on Jan. 30. The purpose of that meeting is to decide if Cemex can mine within 100 feet of the two township roads. The company has already been given approval from PennDOT to go under the state road. 

If the zoning variance is given by the planning board, another public hearing will be advertised and held, supervisor vice-Chairman Brandon Rishel said. If the zoning variance is not approved, Cemex could file an appeal to the supervisors or to Lawrence Coutny Common Pleas Court. If the appeal goes to the supervisors and is voted down, the appeal would go to common pleas court.  

Hermitage lawyer William McConnell is representing the township.

Despite the economic impact and the promises by Cemex representatives to offer no surface disturbance or added traffic, residents were wary of the pitch and urged Supervisors Frank Augustine, Albert Burick and Rishel to deny the permit. Mike Presnar asked if he could get in writing a promise from the company for liability if his house or property is damaged, while Norge Borio expressed concern about the safety of his and other residents' well water. 

"I'm scared to death," Borio said. 

Davies reassured him that if it was proven Cemex was at fault, the company would fix and pay for the problem. Davies then asked how that would be proven and said he doesn't have the funds to pay for representation to go up against Cemex's lawyers in court. 

"It's dangerous to my house," Borio said. "It's dangerous to my pocketbook. I can't go up against you guys. I'll lose."

Under law, Cemex would have to provide seismic testing and a pre-blast survey to any residents living 1,000 feet to a mining area. A pre-blast survey is an inspection and documentation of the condition of a structure prior to mining. If Cemex is approved for its permit, the company wouldn't need to do testing or surveys for many years due to no structures being within that 1,000-foot threshold. 

Davies said surveys like this "give residents some comfort level ... that it's documented."

Rishel asked Davies if Cemex might consider doubling the state guidelines for surveys or at least consider the motion. Davies said the company would consider it. The hearing ended when Burick motioned to table the permit request until the Jan. 30, 6 p.m. zoning meeting. 

psirianni@ncnewsonline.com

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