The State College Borough Water Authority staff and board are comfortable with the Cottages.

The State College Borough Water Authority has released a statement on the proposed Toll Brother development. At the Ferguson Township board’s first meeting in July I asked Steven Jackson, the Ferguson liaison to the State College Borough Water Authority, to request that the authority address the issue of risk from the Cottages development. Two weeks ago I reissued that request in person to the SCBWA board at their monthly meeting. This followed a May Spring Creek Watershed Commission meeting where I asked SCBWA’s consulting hydrogeologist Dave Yoxtheimer whether the development presented an imminent risk to the water. He said it was not. But between then and now, the Commonwealth Court overturned a lower court ruling, the Whitehall Road encampment started, rumors of the Toll Brothers hunting for hydrogeologists to do studies had seeped into the public, and there was a lot of whispering around the corner. I thought it prudent to ask directly, as Ferguson Township supervisor Janet Whitaker had done two years ago, for a clarifying statement from the SCBWA.

They obliged yesterday:

SCBWA Position On Springton Point
Updated July 31, 2017 – 3:34pm

The State College Borough Water Authority would like to reiterate and clarify our position on the proposed Toll Brothers development along Whitehall Road. The Authority’s role is not to support, approve, or deny land development projects. We do not have the legal standing to make land use, planning, or zoning decisions. However, the Authority is always willing to participate in these discussions during the development stages. Our mission is to provide clean, safe water.

When the Toll Brothers development was first proposed, the Authority was not asked to participate in the review process, as it was not our role. As the review process moved forward, Ferguson Township as well as the public requested that the Authority review the proposed development. Through this review process, the Authority staff and consultants prepared a list of items that we thought should be addressed. Over the course of the review process, 27 items of concern were brought to the attention of the developers and the township. These items included: obtaining local geophysical information necessary for planning, design, placement, and construction of retention and infiltration ponds; establishing a no-blasting policy; limiting the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides; and provisions for the Authority to participate in construction and post-construction monitoring. Geotechnical and engineering services were provided to Ferguson Township and Toll Brothers at a cost of approximately $50,000 to the Authority. The developer and the township have included all of these requests in their plans. As a result, the Authority staff and board are comfortable with the development as planned and believe that risk to the source water has been reduced.

My feelings on the SCBWA’s statement are immaterial. It doesn’t matter if I like what they said or if it makes me feel good or not. This isn’t an issue of wanting them to say there are imminent water risks (though it would be really convenient for stopping the development). They have supplied the community and me with exactly what I had asked for: a statement regarding their view of the risks. As they say, they “are comfortable with the development as planned and believe that risk to the source water has been reduced.”

None of this means that the SCBWA likes the development, that they want development encroaching nearer to Zone 1 of the Thomas and Harter wells, or anything else. It simply sets aside the idea that the SCBWA really thinks that the Cottages are bad for water and that they are waiting to speak out against it. It doesn’t surprise me either as I’ve written before. My discussions with hydrogeologists and other experts in the area have informed my judgment that the Cottages don’t present an imminent threat to our wells*. But I still fully believe that the problem is longer-term as the hydra of development eats away at farms and wood lots as developers chase the white whale and try to get us to be their crew. No thanks.

*NOTE: You can backtrack through my statements on “Toll Brothers” to see how my position has gone from alarmed about water to concerned but even more alarmed about pressure on the growth boundary and the preservation of high-quality land.

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