- At Wednesday’s Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Boots Hetherington commented on the ongoing issue of foul odors emanating from the Natural Soil Products facility in Frailey Township.
- Oddly, Hetherington stressed that he was speaking as a “private citizen” despite addressing the matter during an official board meeting.
- This marks the second consecutive week he’s addressed the issue, leading some to speculate about his motivations with the Municipal Election approaching.
- Hetherington also revealed that he and his Republican running mate, Larry Padora, had sent a letter to the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to “strongly encourage” severe action against Natural Soil Products.
- Fellow Commissioner Gary Hess took issue with Hetherington’s unilateral approach, suggesting collective action from the board.
- Libertarian candidate Gregory Woll criticized the Commissioners for not acting as a united board.
- The matter has become a prominent issue during the election season, with some suspecting political motives behind the sudden surge in activity.
Schuylkill County Commissioner (or was it private citizen, in this instance) Boots Hetherington once again delivered a rare public comment during the Wednesday Commissioners meeting.
Again, just 2 weeks before the Municipal Election, Hetherington has decided to take some action on the persistent foul stench coming from the Natural Soil Products facility in Frailey Township.
But he assured everyone in attendance Wednesday that the action he was taking was as a “private citizen” and not as County Commissioner.
Confused? You won’t be after you read the rest of this story … which you won’t read anywhere else.
Your Commissioner, the “Private Citizen”
Hetherington – the supposed “private citizen” – did this while sitting in his chair on the Commissioners dais in the Commissioners Board Room, his nameplate clearly identifying him as Chairman of the Schuylkill County Commissioners in front of him, at Schuylkill County Courthouse, in the middle of a regular board meeting.
While he thought the Public Comment portion of the meeting had come to a close – it had gone on for the better part of 45 minutes on Wednesday – Hetherington said he wanted to make a public comment of his own.
This is the second week in a row that he’s delivered a public comment. And just like last week, it was in regard to the ongoing situation with Natural Soil Products.
Last week’s statement had a whiff of an action taken purely to show some action ahead of the November 7th Election. But the statement he delivered on Wednesday had a full-blown stink around it.
It certainly isn’t as bad as what the people living near that troublesome business say they experience nearly daily, but it smelled enough for those folks to notice in the board room.
After a Year of Hearing Complaints, the Commissioner – Nay, the Private Citizen – Takes “Action”
Hetherington’s comments started with a tone of “See, look what we’re doing …” that flies in the face of the people from the western end of Schuylkill County who have, for at least a year, come to Commissioners meetings to explain what’s happening and plead for the board to take some sort of action.
“Many comments have been made today that Porter Township does nothing, that we do nothing,” Hetherington said to begin. “We’ve been in contact with DEP. I’ve been talking to the supervisors, Mr. Allar and Mr. Nye …”
Now, to put that opening into a bit of context, let’s break it down a bit.
It was just last week that Hetherington said he was in recent contact with Keith Allar, a Frailey Township supervisor. In his comments last week, Hetherington also mentioned a contact, though it was unclear if it was direct contact, with the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP).
It was then and only then we were informed by Hetherington that Natural Soil Products was allegedly being fined $500 daily for failure to install something called the Gore Biosolids Composting System before an Oct. 15 deadline imposed by DEP. That Gore system is supposed to help mitigate the smell coming from the Frailey Township business.
So, as Hetherington tries to counter the argument that the Commissioners have done nothing regarding this issue, he presents evidence to the people showing that it really took more than a year of complaining for him to, essentially, pick up a phone.
That was just the first sentence of his comments. He hadn’t even reached the good stuff …
When is a Commissioner Not a Commissioner?
Hetherington’s commentary continued and at this point, he apparently became Boots the private citizen and not the Commissioner. This is when he informed those in the Commissioners Board Room that he decided to go on his own, with his fellow Republican running mate in the upcoming Election, Larry Padora, to seek remedial action from DEP as it relates to Natural Soil Products.
“Myself and … this is not in my official capacity as a Commissioner … myself and my running mate, Mr. Larry Padora, have put together a letter which was presented yesterday to Mr. Roger Bellas of DEP,” Hetherington said.
So, here’s a guy who interrupts a public meeting – which he has often referred to as “my meeting” – to deliver a little campaign stump speech on behalf his campaign and that of his running mate, Padora.
The hubris shown is rather astonishing when you think about it. Hetherington and Padora take it upon themselves, not even elected into office, to put some pressure on DEP to take action.
And while Hetherington says he’s acting as a private citizen, the letter to Bellas clearly states that he’s currently a Commissioner. It sounds like they’ve already put themselves into office.
Hetherington’s words on Wednesday came across as though he’s saying, “Since we didn’t do anything, I want to prove to you that me and my running mate are doing something.”
“As you once mentioned many times before, we do not have a direct effect on the laws and regulations of Pennsylvania,” Hetherington said, addressing those who traveled to Pottsville on Wednesday from the western side of the county.
“However,” he continued, “Mr. Padora and I are calling for Natural Soil Products to be shut down until that Gore system is put in place.”
Side note: The Canary conducted extensive research and consulted with another county’s Commissioner to learn if campaigning, as Hetherington was clearly doing, while acting in the role of Chairman of the Commissioners presiding over a public meeting, was legal. We learned that it does not violate any law or code.
Hetherington then attempted to sympathize with those NSP neighbors who say they can’t open their windows or stand outside for very long many days because of the foul odor in the air.
“I understand what you’re going through. I agree, no one should have to smell stuff like that,” he said.
“Mr. Padora and I believe if they can’t make their deadline, then shut the place down until they get it fixed and get it installed,” Hetherington added.
Hess, the Commissioner, Responds
At this point, Hetherington’s semi-prepared comment was complete but it only provoked Democrat Commissioner – definitely, a Commissioner – Gary Hess.
“Commissioner, may I say something,” Hess interjected, not realizing he was speaking to a private citizen, obviously.
“If you’re going to do that, why didn’t you have the whole board do that,” Hess said, garnering some cheers and a smattering of defiant claps from the gallery in the Board Room. Earlier in the meeting, Hetherington scolded the public for clapping after some public comments.
“We would have …,” Hess continued, before Hetherington cut him off.
“We can do a resolution, if you want to,” Hetherington, who quickly changed back into the Commissioner, said.
“Absolutely, I’d be ready to do it,” Hess said. “If it came from this board.”
While this was happening, Commissioner George Halcovage sat mostly silent, sometimes shaking his head in a bit of confusion at Hetherington’s actions and in agreement with Hess.
Hetherington got frustrated with Hess and said, “I said this as a private citizen, OK? I said this as a private citizen.”
Woll Jumps In
Since the meeting had clearly devolved into a pre-election campaign frenzy, Libertarian candidate Gregory Woll decided to get in the mix.
Woll was afforded his 3 minutes of Public Comment time after that little exchange between Hetherington and Hess. He wondered, “Why was this not done as the Commissioners? The three of you sitting up there. That’s where the power’s at, not Mr. Padora, not Mr. Hetherington, but the 3 Commissioners from Schuylkill County. It should have been talked among the 3 of you.
“Therein lies the problem,” Woll continued, getting more bombastic that he’s shown at any point during his campaign. “The 3 of you do not talk. You do not act as a Commissioner board. You act in single people, just 1 person. It’s the 3 of you. Why was that not done?”
To that question, the 3 Commissioners – and we’re pretty sure they were all Commissioners at that point again – sat stone-faced for nearly 10 full seconds before Hess addressed Woll’s question.
Hess told Woll that the board asked the County Planning board to help craft an ordinance in the past “that would actually stand up.” That happened at the Planning Commission’s last public meeting, Hess noted, that it received a letter from the Commissioners with this charge.
He added, “We can put an ordinance out there but we want to be sure that it sticks, rather than just throwing words out there.” Hess added that he’s been in contact with the Pennsylvania Governor’s office, too, regarding the NSP situation.
It’s Clearly Election Season at the Courthouse
Usually, you have to read between the lines to see how a politician’s actions change when they’re trying to woo voters close to Election Day. Sometimes those lines are very far apart and it’s pretty obvious.
But on Wednesday, there were no lines.
The issue of the stench coming from Natural Soil Products is hardly a new one. And yes, the Commissioners have responded somewhat in the past to the complaints lodged by residents who live near that facility in Frailey Township. But those responses have largely been, to paraphrase, “There’s really nothing we can do.”
Suddenly, that’s changed, apparently, with phone calls being made, letters being sent, ordinances being drafted, all from the Courthouse that a few months ago said it could do that much about it.
As you’ll hear in the clip below, it doesn’t sound like many who made the trip to Pottsville on Wednesday from NSP’s neighborhood are buying what the Commissioners are selling.
It’s election season, and they can smell it.
You can watch the entire Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting from October 25th here: