A secret meeting with the County Redevelopment Authority.
A grant application with a road to nowhere.
An implication, if not an outright accusation, that a supervisor’s signature was forged on that grant application.
And a signature page of seemingly increasing importance that has gone mysteriously missing.
Welcome to Cecil Township, where the politics are apparently dirtier than the industrial cleanup sites.
The curious case of a minority faction of the Cecil Township Board of Supervisors’ infatuation with acquiring an 87-acre parcel of land known as the ABB Property continued during a public meeting on April 25. After over three hours of public comments almost universally opposed to moving forward with the deal and numerous confrontations among members of the Board of Supervisors, some previously unknown details came into focus while other questions arose with potentially serious political and legal implications for individual supervisors as well as for Cecil Township itself.
For those unfamiliar with the facts surrounding the ABB Property deal, you can find everything you need to know in our previous post, “The Cecil Township/ABB Property Mess: A Deep Dive into a Toxic Township’s Toxic Deal.”
The main questions on the minds of most residents in attendance included:
- Why would Cecil Township take on total legal liability for any claims related to the ABB Property beginning 12 years after the sale closes?
- Why the Township agreed to a Consent Decree with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordering the municipality to clean up the property?
- And why township supervisors Tom Casciola and Eric Sivavec are so hell-bent on moving forward with the deal?
These are all legitimate questions to which nobody has been able to answer. Many following the ongoing situation have theorized that there was a missing piece to the puzzle, and after the April 25 public meeting, that piece began to reveal itself.
Goose in the Gallows conducted a thorough review of the Sales Agreement between Cecil Township and ABB Inc., the Consent Order between Cecil, ABB, and the PA DEP, and the grant application made by Cecil Township to the PA DEP, all of which were obtained via the PA Right to Know Law. Based on that analysis, coupled with the information provided at the April 25 public meeting, a plausible theory has emerged that would answer many of the unanswered questions about this highly questionable deal. Here it is:
The ultimate goal of the ABB deal is not environmental cleanup, but to develop seven new sites for commercial and industrial development on the reclaimed property. The Township would use public grant funds to help build the infrastructure for this new industrial park, which would presumably involve a windfall for Supervisor Tom Casciola, who is a developer with a history of commercial projects in Cecil Township.
Before anyone dismisses this theory as political mudslinging or wishful thinking, let’s look at the quite frankly shocking amount of evidence that has emerged over the past several weeks.
The DEP Grant Application Flat Out References Future Private Development as Part of “A Larger Plan”
Cecil Township applied for a grant with the PA DEP for funding under the Abandoned Mine Land program. Funded by the federal government as a pilot program for Appalachian states with the highest amount of unfunded coal-related abandoned mine sites, Cecil sought a total of $1.9 million of the $25 million allocated to Pennsylvania for 2018-19.
The Project Description on the grant application, which was prepared for the Township by their engineer along with the environmental lawyer retained for the project, includes the following language:
By addressing the coal refuse pile, obtaining an Act 2 release and building a new public works building, this project will enhance safety, eliminate environmental hazards, and improve public services to Cecil Township residents. In addition, undeveloped portions of the site are zoned for business park development and industrial uses and will be eligible for future development opportunities.Cecil Township Grant Application to PA DEP
Later in the four-page application, this sentence appears:
The development of the access road will eventually allow for alternate access to a school and the redevelopment of another property with a coal refuse pile.Cecil Township Grant Application to PA DEP
It should be noted that Supervisor Cindy Fisher read a statement at the April 25 meeting from Canon McMillan School Board President Darla Bowman-Monaco stating in no uncertain terms that the school district has zero interest in an access road through the ABB property. Her stinging rebuke cited the environmental and safety concerns for students as a primary reason why the idea of an access road was a non-starter for the school district.
Under the section “Project Proposed End Use for Economic Revitalization and Community Development,” the underlying plans for future development are laid out in plain sight:
“Remaining usable land on the property carries the potential for future commercial and industrial growth in Cecil Township. The site is zoned BPD (Business Park Planned Development District) and I-1 Light Industrial District. This zoning allows for various commercial and industrial uses, the development of which will create additional jobs and economic activity within the Township.”Cecil Township Grant Application to PA DEP
Of the $1.9 million sought in grant funding, $1,183,810 is designated for environmental cleanup of the coal refuse pile, with the remaining $701,500 for “a permanent access road and utilities.”
Here is the full DEP grant application as provided to Goose in the Gallows:
PA DEP Grant Application ABB by on Scribd
Tom Casciola’s Secret Meeting with the Washington County Redevelopment Authority
This idea of using the ABB Property for future commercial and industrial development was news not only to residents but to a majority of the township officials. During the April 25 public meeting, Supervisor Tom Casciola admitted to having a secret meeting with the Washington County Redevelopment Authority to discuss the ABB Property. The video of that portion of the meeting is available below:
When asked if his meeting with the Redevelopment Authority was on behalf of the Board of Supervisors or himself, Casciola responded:
No. I was speaking with them as someone who could get information for Dan (Deiseroth, the Township’s engineer) so he could get more information for the application. We were going to do either benefiting the tax base through development or cleaned up the property, we got points for (on the grant application). So the more we showed them, the better chance we had of getting the grant. So I decided that we couldn’t develop it ourselves, if we had told them through the application that Cecil was going to develop it ourselves, they (PA DEP) would have seen through that right away. I just asked them (Redevelopment Authority) if they would help us if it came down to that so we could put it on the grant application. And yes, they would help if we were interested.Tom Casciola, Cecil Township Supervisor
When pressed on the issue of essentially going rogue by holding meetings to expand the scope of the ABB project, Casciola backtracked and claimed that the Redevelopment Authority contacted the township engineer about applying for the grant. This claim was quickly rebuked by the engineer, who confirmed that the Township’s environmental lawyer contacted the Redevelopment Authority instead. It seems almost unfathomable that the lawyer and the engineer would take it upon themselves to add a large-scale private development to the project.
It is also tough to believe that one township supervisor (who happens to be a private developer) took a meeting that he now claims to know very little about, including whose idea the meeting was. How did Casciola end up in that meeting? And why did he not tell three of the four remaining supervisors that it took place? Supervisors Ron Fleeher, Cindy Fisher, and Frank Egizio all acknowledged at the April 25 meeting that they had no previous knowledge of Casciola’s dealings with the Redevelopment Authority. Despite all of the unanswered questions, Casciola remains the only common denominator. Not a good look, especially in light of the additional evidence of skulduggery.
The Road to Nowhere
One of the exhibits submitted to the DEP for the grant application was a map of the project area, which includes the proposed public works building, salt shed, walking trail, and access road. Let’s ignore for a minute why anyone in their right mind would drive to a site with significant environmental problems to walk on a circular trail, especially in a township like Cecil with ample access to the stellar Montour and Panhandle Trail systems and focus on the access road.
As you can see in the photo, the proposed Phase I of the project (which is what the grant money would be used for) includes an access road that goes to the public works and salt storage buildings, which is a distance of about 500 feet. But then, the road proceeds for another 800 feet beyond the entrances to the planned municipal buildings.
The cost of building that much new road is considerable, especially when it leads to a dead end. However, if you were planning on commercial and industrial development on the property, that extra 800 feet of roadway suddenly makes perfect sense. During the April 25 public meeting, the township engineer confirmed the general location of any future development; amazingly enough, the Road to Nowhere would be precisely what you would need to access those potential development sites.
This additional 800 of taxpayer-funded roadway makes absolutely no sense whatsoever unless it is part of a plan to use public funds to build infrastructure for private development. Tom Casciola’s role as a developer, coupled with him being the only supervisor to meet with the Redevelopment Authority and his subsequent failure to recall the basic details of the meeting when pressed by residents, makes this entire project start to take on a stench that has nothing to do with the chemicals present on the site.
Supervisor Cindy Fisher then stated that both she and Supervisor Frank Egizio were not present at the meeting in question; each of them confirmed that they did not sign the grant application either. These revelations mean the only two supervisors who signed the application were Tom Casciola and Eric Sivavec, leaving the application one signature short of the majority of the Board presumably required to submit the grant.
Who Signed the Grant Application?
During the April 25 public meeting, some fascinating details emerged about the specifics of the DEP grant proposal. Supervisor Ron Fleeher said that he was approached after a township meeting last summer and asked to sign the grant application, which he was told was due the next day. Fleeher refused to sign, stating that he wanted nothing to do with the ABB Property project.
After these admissions during the April 25 public meeting, Fleeher noted, “Somehow they got their third signature.” Neither Casciola or Sivavec explained as to how they obtained their third signature, even though none of the three possible supervisors who could have signed did so.
The Disappearing Signature Page
After the April 25 public meeting, Goose in the Gallows submitted a RIght to Know Law request for the DEP Grant Application, which was provided the next day and is included in its entirety in this post.
The grant application package consists of a four-page application and seven exhibits including maps and copies of the original sales agreement with ABB and the DEP Consent Decree.
What was missing from the application? A signature page.
Further inquiry to the Township’s Right to Know Law officer resulted in a response that according to the township engineer, the application was submitted electronically and there was no signature page. It should be noted that the Right to Know Officer made it clear that he released everything he had relating to the grant application as it was provided to him by the engineer.
Supervisor Fleeher has confirmed that he was presented with a signature page to sign before refusing to do so. This disappearing signature page raises even more questions. If the grant was going to be submitted electronically and allegedly did not require a signature page, why did supervisors Casciola and Sivavec try to get him to sign one the night before the grant application was due?
And even if the grant was submitted electronically, how is it that none of the Township Supervisors names, or the name of the Township Manager, who is legally authorized to sign such documents, appear anywhere on the document?
Goose in the Gallows is in the process of obtaining the submitted grant application from the DEP to see if a signature page was indeed sent. If it turns out there was a signature page and it contains the signature of a third supervisor, then this entire mess just got a whole lot more complicated.
What Does it All Mean?
Based on the evidence, it appears likely, if not probable, that Supervisors Tom Casciola and Eric Sivavec view the ABB Property project quite differently than how they have represented it to their fellow township supervisors and the public. Casciola’s day job as a developer raises a serious potential conflict of interest concern, and the fact that a clear minority of the Board is trying to steer the process without a clear legal mandate to do so should be setting off alarms for all residents.
If the DEP grant was designed to siphon public funds to pay for future private development that would line Casciola’s pockets, then the Township has that much more of a reason to walk away from the ABB deal. If Casciola’s feeble claim during the public meeting that the future development language was to help get the grant and wasn’t real, then the Township lied on the grant application, making the missing signature page that much more important. If it turns our a signature was forged, as was implied by some members of the Board of Supervisors, then nothing short of a criminal investigation should be in order.
If nothing else, it has become clear that Casciola and Sivavec lied to the people of Cecil Township in general, and the people of Muse specifically. These two (as well as former supervisor Elizabeth Cowden, who initially voted for the ABB deal) seem ready and willing to expose residents to an unnecessary environmental hazard by digging up the contaminated area, not to mention the potentially profound financial impact of taking full legal liability for the entire ABB Property. What started as a questionable policy decision is quickly proving to be potentially far more clandestine than most critics could have imagined.
In the words of Ricky Ricardo, it appears that Tom Casciola has some ‘splaining to do.