Dinniman accuses Artesian of attempting to steamroll well application process
● By Richard Gaw
In the latest salvo in the application of Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. to activate the Broad Run well Landenberg, State Sen. Andy Dinniman recently issued a press release that claimed Artesian Water Resources and its attorneys are trying to subvert local residents’ rights to protest its application to expand service to an additional portion of New Garden Township.
Artesian has applied to the Public Utilities Commission [PUC] to expand its public water service to several properties on Buttonwood, Broad Run and Newark roads, as well as nine other properties set for development. Dinniman claimed that Artesian’s attorneys recently filed preliminary objections to the standing of Dinniman and more than 100 individuals who have filed for "official party of record" or "intervener" status in the upcoming PUC proceedings on the application. Included in those numbers are several members of the Save Our Water Committee, a citizens action group of more than 2,000 residents of New Garden Township who have opposed the presence of Artesian in the township.
Dinniman said that the Delaware-based water company’s legal objections were just the latest ploy in an ongoing effort to undermine the public’s right to voice their protest with the PUC.
"This looks like the latest tactic in Artesian’s attempts to crush discussion on this issue," Dinniman said. "Basically, their attorneys are trying to push us out of the case before it even goes forward. If Artesian wanted to be a good neighbor, its representatives would sit down for an honest discussion with local residents about their valid concerns regarding this project. Instead, they’ve employed legal muscle to try to silence us."
In a company statement made available to the Chester County Press, Artesian attempted to clarify their stance, stating that, contrary to Dinniman's claim, it has not filed a preliminary objection to the protest of New Garden Township to Artesian’s application to the PUC. The key component of their argument, the company said, is determining what parties have proper "standing" to object to the water company's application.
"Artesian respects the rights of Sen. Dinniman and all citizens to speak in the press and in the public square regarding Artesian’s application to the [PUC] for additional service territory in New Garden Township," the statement read. "However, the laws of the Commonwealth regarding 'standing' in an administrative proceeding limit participation in such legal proceedings to those with a direct stake in the outcome.
"Artesian’s position is that Sen. Dinniman and most of the protestors do not have standing under the law to be litigants in the PUC proceeding, because they do not reside in the proposed service territory [of the Broad Run well]. So even if Sen. Dinniman and the other citizens who do not reside in the proposed service territory are dismissed from participating in the proceeding by the Administrative Law Judges, the case will proceed and be open to the public."
In defending his right to protest against Artesian, Dinniman cited his position as an elected representative of New Garden and its residents, his official standing in prior cases before the PUC and experience and wealth of knowledge on environmental issues as a past member of the Chester County Conservation District and current member of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee.
Last spring, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] granted Artesian the temporary right to conduct a 72-hour aquifer test at the well site, which resulted in the extraction of more than 600,000 gallons of water from the well at a rate of 200 gallons per minute, in order to determine its capacity.
At a Dec. 1 "town hall" meeting held before more than 200 local residents at the Avondale Fire Company, Artesian Senior Vice President of Operations John Thaeder shared the results of the test. He told the audience that the well, if active, would have no negative impact on three nearby wells that were used in the testing or any negative impact on flow from nearby streams, and would be sustainable during drought periods.
Although there are many tenets in the opposition to Artesian's presence in New Garden Township, two have clearly stood out in the past year: the fear that the activation of the well would accelerate the need for more water, which could potentially lower the well levels of nearby residents; and the concern that much of the water pulled from the well – when activated – would be sent across state lines to customers in Delaware.
Public records show that Artesian buys about 3 million gallons a day from the Chester Water Authority, that is then circulated to customers in Delaware, an agreement that permits Artesian to purchase as much as six million gallons of water a day. In its application to the PUC, it states that Artesian currently serves 38 residences in New Garden Township, and projects that the Broad Run well – if activated -- will connect approximately 200 additional customers to the service area over time.
"Artesian may be primarily a Delaware company, but they ought to know that this is not how to go about business in Chester County – especially for a company looking to profit off a natural resource that we all depend on," Dinniman said. "As other utilities have learned, that type of approach just doesn’t work here. On matters of protecting natural resources and the environment, Chester County residents won’t be silenced. And we won’t be pushed around."
In its company statement, Artesian continued to support the need to activate the proposed service territory.
"The withdrawal of groundwater is under the jurisdiction of other agencies," the statement said. "Artesian has been supplying water to our customers in New Garden Township from our wells in Delaware for decades, and we will continue to do so. The location of the well in New Garden Township is ideal from the standpoint of reliability, because it can provide water and fire protection to our Pennsylvania customers, even if there is a temporary disruption of service in Delaware because of a main break."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org