A lot is happening right now. Katherine Watt has a piece in the CDT that alleges a lot of collusion between different powers and organizations, there is a joint meeting between the State College Borough Water Authority and Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors tonight.
Whatever you read from here on, please remember this. Be a participant and do your best.
Yesterday, there was a letter to the editor in the CDT calling on us to be involved. ClearWater Conservancy had a piece in the other day calling for the same thing. BE INVOLVED! Always be involved. This has been about land use and source water protection. But it’s a democracy problem. Eleven years ago, no matter how we read the story (see below) people weren’t involved. A vote of 3-2 flipped the land from agriculture to high density. We are dealing with that today.
The lack of participation has been cited as a problem in the Ferguson Township Strategic Plan. There’s that Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” So please go. This project may be almost out of the gate. As people of conscience, it is our duty still to watch and bear witness. And then to commit to our community, our land, and our water.
The piece Katherine Watt put in yesterday’s paper is intense to say the least. Read it please. It lays out a narrative that places people in a possible web of connections that are, on the face of it and possibly, nefarious. The BNY Mellon-Board of Trustees-Toll Bros. stuff is pretty troubling. This is the kind of stuff that you hope is not true, that makes the person within me who grew up here and has seen the university get raked through the mud, and that people already convinced that the university can do no right has done a ton of wrong…It makes my skin crawl.
Watt has filed it as an ethics complaint with Regis Becker at the university. That takes cajones. Lots. Let’s see what happens.
But then there is another set of connections regarding ClearWater Conservancy and Penn State. These, to me, seem rather irrelevant and damaging to the long-term relationships of local land and water activists and our credibility as being able to even work on diverse teams. Maybe that’s my perception. I’ll admit, my relationships with some of the named people are coloring my judgments. I’m aware of that and probably unable to guard against it. I’ve also worked with all kinds of people to do different things so I know I can do it too. And while tough love (as one of my activist friends called it in an email yesterday) is essential. I’m not sure that this is tough love. I think it’s a little closer to conspiracy theories.
But here’s something I know. At all times during the discussion of the Toll Brothers land deal at ClearWater, Penn State employees Erik Foley and Steve Maruszewski had to recuse themselves because of potential conflicts of interest. The rules of the Land Trust Alliance mandate it. So too did Steve Miller who also serves on the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors. And, as I understand it, he’d have no responsibility to recuse himself from anything on the board votes for conflict of interest. The rules of the Ferguson board, and standard conflict of interest rules, say that people recuse themselves when there is financial gain to be made. There are reputational and professional conflicts that can occur too. Someone will have to make those very clear in all these case. Painstaking perhaps because I might be dense. I can accept that.
There’s something at work here in Watt’s analysis that troubles me. The accusations or the insinuations and implications are labyrinthine. Collusion of this level is akin to the kind of conspiracies about climate science by the Tea Party right. There are just too many agreements between too many parties under an overmind for me to easily buy it. To prove the massive conspiracy, you’d need an investigator who interviewed everyone involved. That sounds amazing. Someone do it. Otherwise, it’s names on a network or organizational chart that can be connected. I’m not a conspiracy theorist.
I like Occam’s Razor, simpler explanations that explain the facts at hand. Here’s one. A few weeks ago George Pytel (sp?) who used to serve on the Ferguson Board came to a meeting and berated the current board for letting things get out of control. He said the activists are chicken littles and that the board needs to control that land. It should be developed. Control and development. In 2004, the board was asked by Penn State to change the zoning from ag to high density residential. The university was buying what David Gray recently called “strategic properties.” They sell that property to bring money to the university. [Yes. I hate this when it’s sprawl and this close to the wellheads.] As we know, Dick Mascolo, George Pytel, and Cecil Irvin agreed with Penn State in 2004, violated the growth boundary, and did their own thing. Two others, including Steve Miller, voted against it. Penn State sat on it for years, and went to sell it.
I think this story makes plenty of sense to people doing the status quo. Do I like the status quo? Clearly not. Is there anything unethical in the story above? Maybe. More actual details would need to come out. If someone can get an investigative journalist in there, go for it. But I think it’s people who have a very different vision than mine, one that isn’t evil but one that doesn’t align with what should have happened.
ClearWater Conservancy, who had recently completed the Musser Gap Greenway didn’t say anything about Toll Brothers Boxes…err…Cottages until recently. That really upset me. A couple of months ago I had lunch with some friends and a ClearWater employee. When they were pressed on the matter, they said it’s not ClearWater’s role to weigh in on these matters. Like it or not, that’s not what they do. Yes, they will lobby for Growing Greener because it directly impacts their ability to fulfill their mission. But as a 501c(3), they face limits on what they can do and say on issues like this. So I suspect their silence has to do with their mission and their status, not because Penn State’s empire has silenced them by occupying their board. When they had an opinion piece in the CDT recently, they recognized the situation but didn’t take a position on this project.
This is from ClearWater’s website:
ClearWater Conservancy’s mission includes protecting both land and water resources across central Pennsylvania. By design, we work collaboratively with a spectrum of individuals, businesses, other nonprofits, and government agencies. Throughout our 35-year history, this emphasis on collaboration has allowed us to work in a spirit of goodwill with those who share our values and to be highly productive in achieving common goals and lasting benefits for the region.
Here’s what they wrote in the CDT:
Recent discussions have done much to increase public understanding of where our water comes from, how our water supplies are managed, and how our land use choices affect both water quantity and water quality. As the greater State College community continues to grow, one challenge we collectively face — of how to manage the pressures for new development while maintaining clean and plentiful supplies of drinking water—will be in the spotlight with increasing frequency.
ClearWater respects both private property rights and the processes in place that govern land development. We also believe our community has the right to shape its future and that each individual can play a role in that ongoing process. The time for the community to act to protect land and water is before land use plans are created. We must work proactively — and we must work together — to protect our clean and plentiful drinking water supplies.
We invite everyone in the region to become more engaged in ongoing source water protection efforts.
They go on to encourage protection of source water, participation for source water protection, promote permanent protection of the highest quality of Zone 2 recharge zones (I’d add: the area down slope and east of the pending Toll Brothers and new park developments), and do your part to limit contaminants.
Do I wish they had something? Yes. But look, I’m not the arbiter of people’s roles and their volition. And when it comes down to it, that group has done more good in this area than just about any other. When it comes to source water and riparian protection, forest preservation, and land conservation, they have done great things. And the people from Penn State named in Watt’s opinion piece have helped.
I think that insinuating a nefarious cabal that’s headed by Finance and Business and goes through Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant to ClearWater just doesn’t make sense. Additionally, implying that Penn State’s experts on water and land care and conservation shouldn’t serve on local boards is just absurd. That’s telling people not to be engaged citizens and leaders in their own lives. Come on. By all means, if you don’t want them to have too much sway, then get on those boards and do your part to make their missions and actions that much better. You organize their fundraisers. If people from Penn State are robots, then go undo the programming.
Guess what that means?
Participate in their processes. Be a CRITICAL participant.
So go tonight and hold our board of supervisors accountable. They can and should know that we don’t like this project, that the public is against it, and that we wish for something different…different and better. Keep going. Come when I’m on the board. Be watchful and engaged even when you think you aren’t invited. You can’t get to yes without asking a question.