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Schuylkill County News

Schuylkill County Commissioners Candidates Debate Local Environmental Issues

These answers are interesting in light of recent events.

In the last week, we saw the current Schuylkill County Commissioners publicly discuss the issue of the environment – specifically the smell coming from a biosolids producing facility in Frailey Township – more than they have in recent memory.

On Wednesday, Chairman Boots Hetherington tried to get word out that he and his running mate in the 2023 Municipal Election are calling on Natural Soil Products to shut down until a filtration system is functional.

That’s a call for some big action but they’ve been criticized for maybe doing that as a way to gain some political brownie points from voters in November.

However, at a debate among the candidates in this year’s Election just a few weeks ago, all the candidates running said the Commissioners were basically powerless in dealing with many of the environmental issues currently looming over Schuylkill County.

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This line of questions at the debate seemed to perplex the candidates more than any other. It’s hard to get a political candidate to say they really can’t do much when they’re trying to convince of all they can do for Schuylkill County.

Schuylkill County Commissioners Candidate Debate: The Environment

Candidates at the debate were asked how they’d address pending or potential environmental concerns locally. And they were asked what expertise they had in this area that would be helpful as a County Commissioner. And finally, some answered the question on what role the Schuylkill Conservation District played on this subject.

Check out what each candidate said in response at the Oct. 10 debate:

Rita Anczarski-Baldino

The candidate with perhaps the only answer to these tough questions that wasn’t in the tone of “Hey, it’s not us, it’s the state laws” was Democrat challenger Rita Anczarski-Baldino.

Based on her answer, she believes the solution to these issues, like biosolids, is to prevent them from happening in the first place. She said her best strength on this subject is her ability to do research and that will allow her, as Commissioner, to get ahead of the issue.

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Specific to the biosolids issues, she said, “The long-term consequences weren’t really addressed or understood.”

This short-sightedness is a problem, Anczarski-Baldino added.

“When we make a decision today and we don’t look at the long term consequences, we get ourselves in these kinds of pickles,” she said. “You can’t just make a decision that will benefit someone for today.”

The Democrat added that believed it best to work with the Conservation District to better understand the issues.

Boots Hetherington

Earlier this week, Hetherington and his running mate, Larry Padora, sent a letter to the state Dept. of Environmental Protection to “strongly encourage” the agency to shut down biosolids producer Natural Soil Products until it installed a filtration system, per state order.

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What’s interesting is that just a few weeks prior, at the debate, both candidates said there was little they could do as Commissioners. It appears they may have found something they can do, and just in time before you head to the polls in a couple weeks.

“The problem is, we can not go beyond what the state regulations are,” Hetherington said at the debate.

He defended the Commissioners actions, or lack thereof, prior to those statements, specifically as it relates to NSP.

“When problems occur, we have to address them. Whether it’s a timbering issue, whether it’s a smell issue, whether it’s a biosolids issue, they have to be addressed and we do that,” he claimed. “And DEP does respond.”

Larry Padora

Hetherington’s co-author of that controversial letter was Padora.

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He also said Commissioners are essentially powerless when it comes to dealing with environmental issues like the one faced in Frailey Township and surrounding areas with NSP.

At the debate, he said, “The county commissioners have a limited ability in what the legislators let us do. There’s limited things county commissioners can do. We can advocate. We can’t enforce laws. We’re only allowed to do what the laws let us do.”

Otherwise, Padora did say at the debate, “Right now, there’s a plant that’s creating a smell that’s horrible and people shouldn’t have to put up with it. If that plant doesn’t clear the problem up, I’ll be up there protesting with them.”

Padora also said he wanted to look a little beyond the surface of the biosolids issue. He said we should look at addressing the presence of so-called “forever chemicals” in biosolids.

That’s something similar to what Libertarian candidate Gregory Woll said. Woll was vocally critical, along with Democrat Gary Hess, at Hetherington, specifically, for sending that controversial letter to DEP this week.

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Gregory Woll

The Libertarian candidate was sharply critical of Hetherington, specifically, and all the Commissioners for waiting until just before an election to do something regarding the biosolids issue with NSP in Frailey Township.

He accused Commissioners of failing to work together and just as individuals.

Woll also said the Commissioners need more power in fighting environmental issues within their borders.

“We need to push on our representatives in Harrisburg to correct that,” he said. “They should give the commissioners, they should give the municipalities and townships the ability to regulate how it’s (biosolids) used within the community.”

Woll said he also wants to look at how Schuylkill County can improve technology at local sewage treatment facilities. There, he wants these facilities to be able to filter and remove heavy metals from waste so they can find their way into biosolids.

Gary Hess

Hess started with the criticism of that DEP letter. He wondered why Hetherington waited so long to do anything like that and when he did, why did he do that with Padora, who’s not a Commissioner, and leave the other two Commissioners out of the letter.

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The Democrat incumbent said the County government needs help in its fight – or apparent fight – against NSP and the biosolids issue.

“With the biosolids issue, definitely we need help,” Hess said. “We need the help of the EPA and DEP. We made sure with all the call that we had, we made sure they were followed up.”

Hess said record-keeping efforts regarding the biosolids issue need to be improved.

You can watch this portion of the debate here:

Schuylkill Commissioner Debate Highlights

Check out some of the other stories we’ve filed taking a deeper dive on the answers Commissioner candidates gave at their October 10 debate:

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  1. Mary Jo Moss

    October 28, 2023 at 6:34 am

    I smell a political stunt organized by politicians. The people in the West End have been calling for NSP to be shut down for months after suffering with this stench for years. Let’s bet the facility shuts down this week just before the election so the 2 commissioner candidates who were admittedly powerless to do anything can act like their voice as citizens is more important than all the citizens in the communities who have been advocating for themselves. These people are not naive!

    • Canary Commenter

      October 28, 2023 at 6:39 pm

      This comment maybe should have gone on the other article but Boots definitely isn’t trying hard to hide the stunt factor here.

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