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Mulch ado about farmland preservation in Montgomery County p2

1/2/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We are talking about a dispute between Douglass Township in Montgomery County and a company that purchased a large parcel of land there. The 53.4-acre site had been a tree nursery; it also falls under the Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program. With the blessings of township officials — and a necessary zoning exception — the new owner opened a mulch operation on 7.5 acres of the property.

Things have not gone smoothly since then. The mulch is both unpleasant to look at — one neighbor described waking up every morning to a view of 20-foot-high piles of rotting refuse — and unpleasant to smell. In the last few months, it has come to the attention of the township that the company is using twice its 7.5-acre easement for the mulch.

In mid-November, the mulch caught fire. Spontaneous combustion is a real risk with the material, because breaking down the refuse generates so much heat. It took firefighters a few hours to get the blaze under control. The neighbors and local officials are still hot under the collar.

At the end of November, Douglass Township launched a lawsuit against the company. The complaint alleges a number of violations, including that the company did not have an emergency fire plan in place. The township also filed a request for an injunction, a court order to halt the company’s operations, particularly grinding up mulch, until the facility is in compliance with all applicable laws.

The county has drafted an agreement that may or may not resolve the issue. The proposal would see the mulching operations contained to the 7.5 acres awarded in the easement as well as a conscious effort on the company’s part to use the rest of the parcel for agricultural purposes, as required by the convservation easement purchase program. It is not clear how this will address the neighbors’ original concerns.

The parties are scheduled to meet with a county judge in mid-January.

Source:, “Administrative trial set to resolve controversy over mulch operation,” Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, Dec. 14, 2013