Peters council members Monday put an end to two years of contentious debate over whether crematories should be allowed in the township.
Council passed a new ordinance aimed at regulating them.
"The ordinance is stringent yet balanced," said environmental consultant Gavin L. Biebuyck of Liberty Environmental Inc., who was hired by the township to help craft the regulations.
The issue spawned a public outcry early in 2011, when a local company called Audia Group Investments proposed building a funeral home with a crematory at the site of a former La-Z-Boy store along Route 19.
Nearby homeowners objected, saying they were concerned about mercury and other toxic emissions from the incinerator. The township denied approval for the facility, which resulted in the company filing a lawsuit that remains in court. Because Audia filed its application before the new regulations were approved, its case is not affected by the new ordinance, township solicitor William Johnson said. The company has since opened the funeral home without a crematory.
Although property owners sought a ban on crematories, council members said such a move would be illegal and would be overturned by the courts, leaving the township with no regulations.
Instead, council has spent the past year and a half rewriting and editing new regulations that Mr. Biebuyck said are the first of their kind for any crematory in the U.S. but are achievable benchmarks.
The regulations, unanimously agreed upon, set unique environmental standards, including continuous monitoring of mercury and other toxins; the installation of emission control devices; and air emissions limits on exhaust gases, particulate matter and carbon monoxide.
The new regulations make crematories a conditional use in districts zoned light industrial. That means that applicants must bring their request to council, which would convene a public hearing and notify nearby property owners, who would have the right to provide input. The township's main light industrial area is on Valleybrook Road near the intersection with Route 19.
Crematories must be at least 750 feet from any existing residence, school or day care center and must be on at least one acre of land.
The new regulations prohibit the burning of plastic and require annual stack testing by a third party and inspection of monitoring equipment semiannually.
Hours of operation are limited to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and crematories are required to shut down if emissions exceed the standards at any time.
About 40 residents attended Monday's final public hearing on the issue, and many who have long opposed crematories said they were satisfied with the new regulations.
Resident Povl Jorgensen called the new ordinance a "well thought out and carefully constructed document that includes all the features that I and others have been seeking for months."
Janet Niedzwicki agreed, saying that although a ban would have been ideal, "we recognize you have invested a great deal of time and energy."
John Stoneberg, though, took issue with the shutdown requirements, questioning whether they were too lax and whether they would allow operators to continue burning for a day even if they exceed emission limits.
The new regulations give operators 24 hours to fix issues that are causing emission problems, which is more stringent than the current state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, which give operators one week to address issues, Mr. Biebuyck said.
That's because mercury and other toxic levels can fluctuate during the incineration process, Mr. Biebuyck said, especially when dental fillings made with mercury are burned.
"It is very difficult to monitor for mercury," Mr. Biebuyck said.
Slightly exceeding the standards on rare occasions would not present a health hazard, Councilman David Ball said.
Resident Roy Lanz questioned whether council had considered those who use the Montour Trail in the area of Valleybrook Road, where at least one property fits requirements for a crematory.
The recreational trail cuts through the light industrial district in that area, but Councilman Robert Lewis said that exposure would be limited because people are moving through the area.
Florence Stoneberg asked about penalties, and manager Michael Silvestri said state limits cap fines at $500 per incident.
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-851-1867.