Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Greens Feed Store - a Diffle County Story

Here in Pennsyltucky local politics boil on the front burner. Folks here proudly wear the American flag, agree on everything wrong with the State and Federal government, and then use political officials and public meetings to tenderize and roast their neighbors. We celebrate a rich history, dating back to the original European settlers, of in-your-face politics, behind-your-back planning, and stab-you-in-the-eye at the most perfect moment in front of the gossip hounds that will surely proclaim your demise to everyone they know. This isn't for the weak-of-mind or faint-of-heart. If you can't handle the heat, get out of the dutch oven.

I was young and had just been hired by an elected Board of Supervisors to help out with their zoning. Their officer, Frank Selense had broken his hip when he was pushed over a wall by an angry property owner named Robert Depue Jr. Frank had refused to issue a permit for a wall DePue had already built without permits. Perhaps there was a way to resolve the issue without lawyers and Hearings, Perhaps in California, I don't really know. But not in Pennsyltucky. In this state, we go to war. Zoning officer Frank Selense was bound and determined to make Robert Depue's life miserable.

According to Ruth May, our local historian on all matters having to do with local families- the zoning officer's Great Uncle Bill (on his father's side) had impregnated DePue's Great Aunt Ada (on his mother's side). She was fifteen years old at the time. There was a shotgun wedding and later a nasty divorce and custody battle. All of this occurred before Mr. Depue and Mr.Selense were born. But the seeds had been sown and the two families have been feuding ever since.

Robert told Frank that the township could kiss his farmer butt before he would ever get a permit for a wall. Frank pulled out a citation book and threatened to fine Robert a thousand dollars. Robert told Frank where to stick that citation. Frank told Robert to take a flying leap through the hole of a rolling doughnut (clearly someone in Frank's family had read Kurt Vonnegut Jr.). Robert responded by making certain that Frank the Zoning Officer took a flying leap off his illegal wall. The following week I was hired to "run things till Frank returned" and "don't piss anyone off".

A week or two later, one of our elected officials, Bob Branson- a tall and lanky man with a huge tuft of thick blonde hair, angrily told me that some troublemaker opened a Feed Store without any permits. I printed up a few "Stop Work Orders" and raced over to "Green's Feed and Eggs Farm Store" that was an empty barn the last time I had driven past it. The property was owned by Old man Barker, a crotchety, opinionated, argumentative farmer with an unusual gait and deep, haractersdeep pockets. I plastered the building with notices.

I went inside and I told the cashier to close the store. I told her "if Barker wants a store he will have to get permits for it", A few weeks passed by and still the store was open. I then called Barker and threatened to file charges against him in our local court. He hung up on me.

At the next township meeting, the entire room was filled with the local farmers, old man Barker, and a nice fellow from the PA Department of Agriculture. At a public meeting, in front of a packed room, I was schooled on a small, arcane section of the state zoning law, a section that was added a few years later, buried deep in a budget law. The new law read something like this: "Farm stores are legally exempt from the law and local agencies may not issue permits or deny permits for farm stores."

At the meeting, one farmer after another hounded, pounded, beat my soul and body down, while old man Barker sat in the back row and laughed out loud. The next day I drove to Greens Feed and I took down the notices, my tail hanging between my legs, I also bought a dozen eggs. They were the best eggs I have ever eaten,

Welcome to Diffle County, friends.

All characters are fictional and not intended to be confused with real people anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Happy Birthday My Love

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
                                                   Happy Birthday Crazy lady
                                                        Happy birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
You love me more than I love you
no wait...I got that one backwards

You love social media
you love our dogs more than I do
ok..that's not really true 

OMG our dog's drowning.
Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday to you
Red Mill burgers taste good
(though you are eating an onion ring or fries)

Happy birthday to you

I'm blessed because you love me 

Happy birthday to you !!!!!!!!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

DIFFLE COUNTY UPDATE: East Greenville Sues East Greenville and Wins!

Historian Randall O'Rourke 
I really don’t enjoy flying in jet airplanes.  They are crowded, the air conditioning  is turned off when you sit in the terminal, your seat is broken or your tray is broken, and every cough you make is akin to spreading  a super virus that will kill everyone on the plane.

Flying is the antithesis of The Three Musketeers famous saying “All For one and one for All.” On an airplane it is “Every man for himself  and everyone all together”  If you’ve ever  had to stow your bag overhead one row behind your seat, you understand this sentence. Once the plane has landed and with every person pushing forward past you - good luck getting to that bag.  Yet we are all in it together if the plane takes a nose dive.

When Tracey Morgan’s limo bus was tapped in the rear and rolled over in a six vehicle accident, many more people lived than died.   If his plane rolled over,  they wouldn’t call for an ambulance and a tow truck to come pick him up.

Enough about the luxury of  flying.  At 39,000 feet I am reminded that I haven’t written on the blog in a very long time and a lot has happened in Diffle County since my last update.  I  think now would be a good time to catch everybody up.


East Greenville  held a referendum on the city name after their Town Constable, Johnny “Bearhug” Bartlesky made an amazing discovery. He was driving to Quakertown to pick up a prisoner from the county prison when he got lost, with the help a gas station attendant or two.   He ended up in East Greenville- in Montgomery County!    When he returned home with this revelation, the Town Council was furious and wrote a letter to the imposter East Greenville demanding they change their name.
Since the Montgomery County town was established over one hundred years before the Diffle County town, there was no way they were changing their name.  Instead East Greenville, Montgomery County sued East Greenville, Diffle County to force a name change.

In the course of discovery, it was revealed  that a significant number of tax bills were being sent to the wrong town by an incompetent US Postal Service.  Since the homes in Montgomery County were much higher in value, Diffle County’s general fund greatly benefited.

   “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”,  testified Diffle County Chief Tax Assessor Randall O’Rourke.    

That was a sticking point with State Judge Anthony Grube, a former Montgomery County Prosecutor who ruled that East Greenville, Diffle County must be audited, the monies returned, and a referendum on their new name must be held.  The court order made the referendum a binding resolution and the record was sealed.

A local Diffle County committee was formed and three names were chosen:  Greenvale, PA ;  East Greenvale, PA , and Westgreen, PA.   The third name was chosen when it was pointed out to the Committee  by the town historian, Randall O’Rourke that the town resides on the West side of the creek, and not the East side as previously thought.

The winning vote was East Greenvale.  There were a few write-ins that gained traction but fell a few votes short. The top write-in three vote-getters   East Greensucksville;  Gruberville,  and West Easterly.
West Easterly actually won the most votes, if you count the two absentee ballots sent in by the Sean and Maggie O’Rourke. They were vacationing in Ireland at the time of election, and asked their son Randall to drop their absentee ballot off at the post office.   He forgot.

In other news -  Barry Stettler was plowing part-time for Grinold Township when he fell and broke his leg.

 Last October,  Barry put up a shed right on the property line and his neighbor Jim Catinera filed a complaint with the zoning office.   Barry had to rent a skid-steer to move the shed five feet beck from the line and it cost him a hundred and seventy five dollars to rent the machine and pay the permit fee.  He was not happy.

When winter arrived and it came time to plow the roads, Barry was assigned to plow Caterina’s street.  Big Don warned Barry beforehand.   “Don’t even think about doing damage to Catinera’s mailbox. “  Big Don said.

After four sweeps of the street, each time pushing snow closer and closer to the mailbox, finally Barry took one last swipe.  The heavy, wet snow flew, the post cracked, but the mailbox did not fall over.  Furious at this, Barry drove for a fifth run at the mailbox, opened the truck door and gave the box a good hard kick. Then helost his grip on the steering wheel and fell out of the truck.  His leg hit the step rail awkwardly, then his weight snapped the bone in his leg like a twig.

The Truck continued on plowing without him, as it rolled down an embankment and pinned itself between two pine trees.  Big Don had to rent a crane to remove the fully-loaded salt truck  from its woodland perch.  Barry was fired and Jim Cantinera received a brand new mailbox and half a pound of  deer sausage.

Three weeks later,  Barry’s shed blew up. “Must have been Meth lab!” Big Don said with a big-ol’ grin.  Breaking bad right here in Diffle County.  You just never know.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Bio- Solids Rubicon, Part 3: Two Words - One Purpose

Black Diamond Mine, Indiana County, PA
Photo: U.S. National Archives 
1. The Second Word – Preemption

Our legislators, the regulators, and most importantly the profit-makers couldn't trust that a risk management decision of spreading bio-solids in rural communities would actually be successful on its own merits.  The quality of bio-solids might create a fuss, communities might refuse to allow it inside their municipal borders.   It wouldn't be enough to convince a community that this is a good solution to a long-standing problem of where and how to dispose of sludge. Choice had to be removed from the equation- and for good reason too.

To correct this potential problem, two words became instrumental to the success of the industry.  The two words are regulation and preemption.   The first was to regulate the sludge through the application of numbers – setting new standards for sludge based upon already established standards for contaminates in soil, setting standards for land application based upon geology, isolation distances, soil morphology, and the amount of contaminates in the solid waste- which was broken down into two groups of bio-solids to be applied: Type A and Type B.

The second word was taken from another law.  Pennsylvania’s industrial history is primarily based upon  coal mining.  When coal mining was the power industry that built our State, the last thing the industry would allow and the state legislators would permit was a local town, borough, or county interfering with coal mining.  Entire communities relied upon those dangerous mining jobs.  Written into the mining act of Pennsylvania was a special section called the Preemption Clause.

Preemption was simple. No community of any size or persuasion could write a law that conflicted with Federal and State law and those regulations written pursuant to that law.  Mining was off-limits to Nimby-Warriors.  That worked for several years and still is very effective.  By the 1980’s coal mining was  in full decline in Pennsylvania but strip mining for sand and stone was a growing industry and the exemption clause protected all types of mining.   Central Pennsylvania has never fully recovered from the decline.

In North Pennsylvania  the process of fracking, the process of fracturing shale to get natural gas is helping their depressed economy. Here is another temporary extractive industry bringing jobs and opportunity to a region starved for a real economy.  And this too shall pass once all the gas is gone.

Preemption protects the State from the occasional uprising of small communities who decide that their local needs are more important than the needs of the greater whole.  It is a minority opinion- the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many that small protest groups sometimes embrace.  Preemption is a stark reminder to local populations that their personal needs, while valid in thought and often in practice, are not paramount over the greater social good.

Local governments do not have the resources, technical or financial, to hire the professionals needed to create sound, scientific regulations that will best protect them.  Besides, even if a local government had retired EPA scientists living in their community who could write and even enforce tough regulations, what about the farm owner just across the Township line.

“Oh my, lookie what Farmer Brown is spreading and there ain’t no fancy-pants EPA guy living in our Township to regulate that mess. Oh my oh my, he just dumped a pile of radioactive turds right on his property line, right on the Township line, and right about 40 feet from our well.  Quick get the phone Sally, we gotta call our State legislator and demand they do something about this so it never, ever happens again."   Kind of reminds me of a song from Pink Floyd..Us and Them.

2. The First Word: Regulation

It is Martin Luther King Jr. day and I am sitting in an ethics class. My fellow students  are members of the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association.  Here are the men and women who pump out septic tanks in rural Pennsylvania and they are learning about ethical conduct. I find that to be very encouraging.  I've seen more than my fair share of homeowners drop a sump pump into their own septic tank and pump it into the woods next to their house.

Any other day these mostly young people are locating your septic tank lid, dragging a large suction hose across your yard, dropping it in that tank and sucking out your biological solids.  Then they drive away into the sunset, leaving behind a black odorous stripe of sludge in your yard from the suction hose that is now hanging on the side of their truck.   Except for that stinky stripe,  the sludge just goes away forever.

No it doesn’t.  It has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is usually in a farmer’s field, regulated by a State environmental agency.  Local contractors sometimes ask me, Do we really need all these regulators?  Why can't they just leave us alone?  The answer is simple- to protect us from ourselves, to protect us from greedy people who would dump pollution in our streams and rivers for a profit.

We need regulations to protect us from bandits who do not give a damn about who suffers , who gets cancer, or who passes along damaged genes to future generations..  We need regulations to solve environmental problems we create by living the life we all want to live- full of gadgets, computers, food networks, wedding  receptions, and fine restaurants.  Regulations are necessary  to keep at bay the hustlers, thieves, and pirates who would do us harm were the words of regulators not in their proper place.

 Regulations level the playing field.  Everyone plays by the same set of rules.  And in the case of bio-solids/sludge the regulations are written to solve a problem of disposal by using science- let me repeat that word because this is where we lose some of the Nimby-Warriors:  bio-solids regulations are written to solve the problem of disposal through the application of a SCIENTIFIC method to handle the metals, toxins, and other nasty viruses that may or may not be travelling inside the sludge.

We send our children to school to learn to be environmental engineers, specialists, botanists, soil scientists, and many other disciplines. Where are we expecting them to work?   Only a few people can make a living fighting for the environment by hugging trees, riding Greenpeace ships,  and  showing up at the local fire hall as an expert witness.  The bulk of the work for our professionals in the environmental field is within the regulatory process of allowing certain industrial processes. We can not allow these practices without regulations.  Remember Lake Erie of the 1960’s?

Bio-solids comes from human beings.  There are toxins in bio-solids because, in part, people will dump anything down their toilet and flush it away.   People do it in the city and people do it in the country.  Latex paint gets flushed down.  The only difference is there are more people in the city, so the concentrations are higher.    Yet the sludge from a septic tank is essentially the same as the sludge from a city treatment plant.  It is the waste product of human beings.   We generate it every single day.

You want an ultimate solution to determining where to dispose of bio-solids- stop flushing your toilet.  Please don’t flush your toilet.  Otherwise, learn the regulations and if you choose to fight them,  fight with a alternative solution using the sound application of a scientific method.  Oh, that's right, your community doesn't have the people to doit for you.   Not in my backyard is simply not intelligent enough an argument to withstand the battle of a long and unending war with the educated effort to find a scientific answer to an age-old problem- what do we do with the 1/4 ton of our own yearly crap we don’t want in our backyard.

Next in Our 5-Part Series:

The High Price of Peace in Small Town Politics