Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were dispatched to Lancaster County last week to investigate the theft of dynamite and blasting caps from an Atlantic Sunrise pipeline work site in Marietta. A trailer break-in was reported April 16, and it was thought more than 700 pounds of dynamite had gone missing. Authorities recovered 320 sticks of dynamite and 404 blasting caps April 20 from Riverfront Park in East Donegal Township, and said they believed the discovery constituted all of the missing explosives. As LNP reported, Special Agent Charlene Hennessy said Saturday it appeared likely Gregory General Contracting, from whom the explosives were stolen, erred in keeping track of its inventory. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s press secretary said Friday the department has suspended Gregory General’s blasting permit for not complying “with the required ... explosive handling, storage and use regulations” and would be “pursuing appropriate enforcement actions.” Gregory is a subcontractor for Welded Construction, which manages the Atlantic Sunrise project in Lancaster County for Williams Partners.
We are not talking about company stationery here.
If hundreds of reams of paper went missing from a business, it would be distressing to that business, but it wouldn’t constitute a hazard to the entire community.
We are talking about dynamite — an explosive chemical material that can destroy whole buildings when detonated. It’s used in pipeline construction because of its power to blast through rock.
So it would seem to be of some importance that a company keep a strict inventory of how much dynamite it has. But Gregory General had a bit of a paperwork problem, the ATF says.
This is astounding.
How does a company lose track of how much dynamite it has in stock? Unless it’s Acme Dynamite Corp. and Wile E. Coyote is its most loyal customer, we cannot fathom how that happens.
When federal investigators arrived in Lancaster County, they said they would be working with “a sense of urgency.”
Naturally. Because the missing material was dynamite.
The ATF actually doubled its initial reward for information on the theft to $20,000. Because it was dynamite.
Between 30 and 40 agents were dispatched to Lancaster County to work on the case. Why? (Say it with us!) Because it was dynamite.
And, as LNP reported, theft and possession of stolen explosives is a federal crime that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A federal agent also told LNP that the subcontractor could face criminal charges if it’s found to be at fault.
Williams Partners quickly sought to distance itself from the matter.
“The theft occurred at a third-party contractor storage yard of which we do not have oversight,” Williams’ spokesman Chris Stockton said in an email to LNP. “It is operated, maintained and kept secure by the contractor and is separate from our active pipeline construction work site.”
Nice dodge, there. The law is complicated about whether companies are liable for the actions of contractors and subcontractors. But even if it is not legally liable, Williams should follow through on its pledges that the Atlantic Sunrise project would be meticulous in its execution.
In a 2015 LNP op-ed, Chris Springer, Williams’ project director for Atlantic Sunrise, said the company was committed to adopting operating practices that “exceed industry and regulatory safety standards.”
We’d hope that would include ensuring its contractors and subcontractors took care of details such as the proper cataloguing and storage of dynamite and other hazardous materials.
We’re prepared to have that particular hope dashed.
What we’re not prepared to do is to consider The Mysterious Case of the Missing Explosives resolved now that the ATF believes all of the dynamite has been recovered. No suspected has been identified for the theft.
Lancaster County residents deserve answers. Is it true that Gregory General lost count of its explosives and, if so, how could that possibly happen? How can we be sure that other hazardous materials are being safely stored safely and accurately counted?
We eagerly await those answers.
We speak for the trees
As LNP staff writer Ad Crable reported Wednesday, a “broad-based program to plant 10 million trees in Pennsylvania over the next seven years — with Lancaster County as an epicenter — was launched on a Mount Joy-area farm Tuesday.”
The leaders of the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership hope to marshal grass-roots groups and volunteers across the state to plant trees to serve as buffer strips along farmland streams to reduce runoff and along urban streets to stem stormwater flooding.
Crable noted that the kickoff was held in Lancaster County “because it is a significant source of soil and nutrient farm runoff fouling the Chesapeake Bay.”
“Trees, especially alongside streams and streets, are one of the most cost-effective ways to restore and protect stream health, help keep nutrients and soils on the land and cleanse drinking water sources,” said Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which will coordinate the project.
Trees also “help to filter air pollutants,” Crable noted. And this is no small thing given that the American Lung Association recently reported that Lancaster County continues to rank among the worst metropolitan areas in the nation for its levels of soot and smog.
The state departments of agriculture, environmental protection, and conservation and natural resources are behind the tree-planting initiative. Conservation districts, businesses, watershed organizations, local governments, nonprofits and outdoors groups are expected to get involved.
This seems like an amazing effort, and we hope it meets its ambitious goal — for the health of both the Chesapeake Bay and Pennsylvania residents.
The ATF asks anyone with information about the explosives theft to call its hotline: 1-888-ATF-BOMB (283-2062).