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Seedway Fire: Vera Cruz Facility Broke State Law, DEP Says

The Seedway Inc., Vera Cruz, violated state law by burning solid waste without a permit and improperly extinguishing a massive fire last month, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

A picture of a November fire at Seedway taken by a East Penn School Board President Charles Ballard.
A picture of a November fire at Seedway taken by a East Penn School Board President Charles Ballard.
By Jack Tobias

The Seedway Inc., whose Vera Cruz facility burned in a massive fire last month, violated state law by burning solid waste without a permit and improperly extinguished the fire that spread and led to an emergency response.

That is the ruling of the state Department of Environmental Protection issued last Thursday (Dec. 5). It is based in part on an inspection of the Seedway site two days after the Nov. 20 fire at the 5901 Vera Cruz Road facility.

As for any fines or related measures against Seedway, "We have not made a determination on if any enforcement action will be taken against Seedway," Colleen Connolly, a DEP official at the Wilkes-Barre regional office, said in an email to Patch Wednesday. "The company has been cooperating with us in taking care of the issues listed in the NOV [Notice of Violation] so far," she said.

An employee at the Vera Cruz facility directed calls to company headquarters in New York state. Patch left a message with an official there, but a return call or email was not made in time for this posting.

The DEP ruling says the solid waste that Seedway was burning included, but was not limited to, pallets, paper bags and boxes.

The ruling says the company must do the following:

  • Immediately cease the burning of solid waste.
  • Characterize all solid waste described in the ruling through generator knowledge, or sampling and analysis using an environmental testing laboratory.
  • Within 30 days of receiving the DEP notice, remove and properly dispose of all solid waste, including ash residue, at a facility permitted to accept such wastes.
  • Submit receipts to DEP that document proper waste handling methods within five days of disposal of all solid waste.

The ruling, which was sent to Travis Schnader of Seedway, is signed by Walter F. Govern III, solid waste specialist, waste management program.

The ruling says of Seedway's violation:

"Solid waste, including but not limited to pallets, paper bags and boxes, were admitted to being burned in an area at the rear of the facility adjacent [to] a wooded area and farm fields. The fire was improperly extinguished and spread to seed products adjacent [to] the burn pit and the wooded area, resulting in an emergecy response incident."

As Patch reported at the time ofthe fire, a giant black pillar of smoke caught the attention of the region's residents, and firefighters were able to declare the blaze under control about four hours afer erupting.

The fire eventually grew to a six-alarm blaze that required the efforts of 19 fire companies from Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties to knock it back.

The fire call came in to the Lehigh County Communications Center just before noon.

At that same time, Patch received numerous texts and emails from readers wondering about the cause of a column of thick, dark smoke. One Patch reader speculated in the comments on an earlier article about the fire that its cause had to be petroleum-based because of the blackness of the smoke.

Later, Upper Milford Township Manager Dan DeLong and others confirmed that the Patch commenter had indeed been correct, as the blaze quickly spread from its starting point to plastic barrels owned by Seedway, destroying almost all of the barrels before it was contained at about 2 p.m.

In the early afternoon, Lindsey Parks, executive director of The Seed Farm, said that water from a pond at The Seed Farm -- located across the street from Seedway -- was being pumped across Vera Cruz Road to help battle the blaze.

Vera Cruz Road was closed between Main Road E/W and Church View Road for much of the day while firefighters and later fire investigators and investigators from the state Department of Environmental Protection worked, according to DeLong.

DeLong said no one was injured in the fire.

Founded in 1963, Seedway provides farm and turf seed in the United States and Canada. It is headquartered in Hall, NY, according to the company website, and operates in two other Pennsylvania locations -- Mifflinburg and Elizabethtown -- as well as in Vermont, New York and Florida.

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