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Residents Demand Ferguson Township Stop Development Over Water Safety Concerns

by on May 19, 2015 6:30 AM

Monday night's Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors meeting was practically overflowing with concerned residents, many of them holding signs with slogans such as “Save Our Water.”

The dozens of township residents had one thing on their minds: a proposed Toll Brothers housing development at the corner of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive.

The proposed development, known as The Cottages at State College, would sit about 4,000 feet uphill from the recharge area for two wells that supply the majority of the State College area’s drinking water.

Township resident Pam Steckler presented the supervisors with a petition with over 400 handwritten signatures asking the board to deny the development and rezone the plot of land back to agricultural use. An online version of the same petition has over 1,800 signatures.

Steckler pointed out that the plot of land in question, which is owned by Penn State, was originally zoned for agricultural use before being rezoned to allow residential development in 2004. She said that the Centre Region Council of Governments recommended against allowing developments on that area because of its proximity to the wells.

Steckler, along with a handful of other residents, said she fears the new development will expose the area’s drinking water to contaminates like oil, grease, pesticides and herbicides that will flow downhill to the wells with storm water and other runoff. 

“The proposed Toll Brothers development is, for lack of a nicer way to put it, ugly sprawl: more cliché cookie-cutter boxes with no connection to the land, or to us,” said township resident Peter Buckland. “…’The Boxes’ will bring more concrete, more asphalt, more noise, more drunk students, less farmlands, worse views of the ridge, and less piece of mind.”

Township resident Joe Cusumano said one of the major reasons he moved to Ferguson Township was for the open spaces and scenic vistas – which he feels is threatened, at least in part, by the proposed Toll Brothers development.

Cusumano speculated that the township would face a lawsuit regardless of whether or not the board approves the development.

If the development is denied, then Cusumano would expect a lawsuit from Penn State and Toll Brothers. If the development were approved, then he’d expect a lawsuit from the surrounding municipalities whose drinking water is negatively affected.

“Whatever way this plays out, you’re going to have a fight on your hands,” Cusumano said. “So the question is: who are you fighting for?

Area resident John Sepp – president of PennTerra Engineering, the firm working with Toll Borthers to help develop the plans – also chimed in, although members of the audience periodically interrupted him.

Sepp said he and the other engineers working on the project have a moral and professional obligation to ensure the plans will not contaminate the local water supply. He said the plans include several features to help ensure the safety of the wells, including a special retention basin liner to help prevent sinkholes and filtration devices installed onsite.

The board of supervisors didn’t hold much discussion after the residents finished making their demands, but supervisor Drew Clemson assured each of the speakers that they had been heard. 

“We have to act on the information we have on hand, and we are more apt to act on the scientific evidence than the anecdotal,” Clemson said. “But the bottom line for me comes down to this: I work for you.”

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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