Pa. County Sued for Blocking Water Bottler's Plans
A company trying to enter the business of extracting water for sale to bottling companies has sued several Schuylkill County officials and agencies for blocking its plans, according to reporter David Slade of the Allentown, Pa., newspaper The Morning Call.
Far Away Springs claims the county solicitor and his assistant have relationships with unnamed competitors, and one used his authority to block the company's plans while at the same time trying to steal one of its customers, Slade reports.
Company owners Stanley F. Frompovicz Jr. and Carol Frompovicz of Auburn also say their rejected plans are virtually identical to those of MC Resource Development, a controversial water extraction business that received approval to operate in West Penn Township.
The bottling business has flowed steadily into the Lehigh Valley, Pa., area in recent years. The area is now home of the 384,000-square-foot Nestle Waters North America plant in Upper Macungie Township, as well as smaller extractors and suppliers.
Far Away Springs is demanding in excess of $100,000, plus costs and attorney's fees, on each of six counts in the civil rights complaint.
The county, its Zoning Hearing Board and Planning Commission, and 14 current and former county officials are the defendants.
Schuylkill assistant solicitor Robert S. Frycklund said the county received a copy of the suit, filed June 26 in U.S. District Court in Scranton, but he would not comment on the litigation. Frycklund is not among the defendants.
Slade's efforts to reach county solicitor Joseph H. Jones Jr. and assistant solicitor Paul J. Datte, defendants in the suit, were unsuccessful.
The suit says Datte used his authority to thwart Far Away Springs' zoning applications while he represented at least two of the company's competitors, and tried to lure away one of its customers. The suit also says Jones' brother is launching a competing water company.
Far Away Springs signed an agreement with Schuylkill Economic Development Corp. in 1998 to buy Brandonville Industrial Park in East Union Township, Pa., and the next year negotiated with the Girard Estate for rights to extract water from an adjacent 800 acres. The Girard Estate and its administrator, Philadelphia, are plaintiffs in the suit.
Starting in 1999, Far Away Springs' business plans repeatedly were blocked by permit rejections. The company alleges that one of its zoning applications was identical to an application by MC Resource Development Co. that was approved in 2001. MC Resource has permission to draw up to 6.9 million gallons a months from wells at Indian Run Creek on the border of West Penn and East Brunswick townships. It sells the water to the Wissahickon Springs bottling plant in Philadelphia.
Far Away Springs claims its right to due process was violated because Schuylkill County treated the company differently from similar companies ''in an arbitrary and capricious manner for personal reasons unrelated to the merits of the proposed use of the property.''
The company says there was a conspiracy to violate its rights, which amounted to an unlawful taking of its property.