Public meeting on Artesian well expected to draw continued opposition
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
Before its upcoming ruling, one that may determine the future of water distribution in New Garden Township and beyond, the Delaware River Basin Commission will soon be giving local residents an opportunity to voice their opinion on one of the hottest topics in recent township memory.
On Sept. 8 at the Avondale Fire Company, the Commission (DRBC) will hold a public input meeting at 7 p.m., to hear from residents in the New Garden area regarding Artesian Water Company’s application to withdraw water from the Broad Run well in Landenberg. The topic is already well known to many in the township: Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. is seeking approval to withdraw as much as 288,000 gallons of water per day -- at a rate of 200 gallons per minute and over 100 million gallons a year -- from a well it owns at the corner of Broad Run and Newark roads, on property they purchased from the Wilkinson family several years ago.
Artesian’s proposed plans for water distribution extend from New Garden up to the Delaware state line, a plan that has raised concern that the Delaware-based company is positioning itself to eventually pump the water from the Broad Run well over the state line, in order to serve tens of thousands of Delawareans. The objections don't end there: Several residents and local officials continue to hammer home -- through letter-writing campaigns, meetings and appeals to agencies -- that the number of homes Artesian currently serves and the number of gallons it is requesting to use with the well -- simply don't add up.
Currently, Artesian serves 38 homes in the New Garden area, but in its application, it requests expanding its service territory to include service to additional property slated for development. Artesian states than an estimated 210 customers are expected to live in the area, but no homes are under construction and no building permits have been submitted to the township.
By establishing a presence in New Garden Township, Artesian would be able to expand its public water service to several properties on Buttonwood, Broad Run and Newark roads in Landenberg, as well as nine other properties that have been projected for future development. In order to get the green light to begin pumping, Artesian must receive a water withdraw permit from the DRBC as well as obtain franchise approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to expand its service area.
The DRBC, a regional body governed by five commissioners, each representing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York and the federal government, has already delayed approval of Artesian’s permit twice, but is expected to vote on the well at its public hearing and business meeting on September 15 and 16.
Although the final ruling is expected to be handed down this month, there is no guarantee that it will even be addressed at the DRBC's upcoming meeting. David Kovach, a DRBC geologist and project review section supervisor, told the Chester County Press earlier this year that given a backlog of other applications that he and the DRBC commissioners are scheduled to review at the Commission's September meeting, a final decision may not be reached until it meets again in December.
The decision to hold the Sept. 8 meeting came at the request of State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who has been the leading publicly-elected advocate in raising concerns about the project’s potential impact on well water levels and the local environment.
"I want to thank the DRBC for holding this meeting and for coming to our area to hear directly from those potentially impacted by this important project," Dinniman said. "If you live in New Garden, Franklin, Landenberg, London Britain or the surrounding area, or have a business there that relies on well water, I encourage you to learn about Artesian’s plans and to make your voice heard on September 8."
On the heels of the DRBC decision, the PUC is currently reviewing the letters and reports of the more than 100 individuals and groups -- classified as "intervener" or "party of record" -- who submitted their protests about Artesian's interests, earlier in the year. During that time, Artesian's attorneys filed objections to their standing, but on March 13, PUC Administrative Law Judges Cynthia Williams Fordham and Darlene Heep approved the standing of some individuals as part of the official record.
PUC commissioners have assured Dinniman that they too plan to hold a public input hearing in the New Garden area before giving their final ruling.
"This issue is connected to the larger question of development in southern Chester County," Dinniman said. "The area remains one of the last rural and agricultural bastions of open space in our county and there is a real desire to keep it that way.
"When it comes to matters of protecting our natural resources, I have a constitutional duty and a moral responsibility to represent my constituents and defend their interests. And I cannot think of a more important natural resource than the very water we drink."
While Sen. Dinniman has argued his case from the legislative side, the Save Our Water Committee has done the same from a grass-roots approach, receiving the support of over 2,000 residents who have signed on in opposition to Artesian's presence in southern Chester County. As the Committee prepares its comments for the Sept. 8 meeting, spokesperson David Yake said that it will reinforce the same themes it has repeated over the past several months.
"First, we believe that Artesian should have to adhere to strict standards, by applying for approvals and complying with state and local regulatory requirements," Yake said. "If the decision comes down that they are not required to comply with these requirements, that sets a very dangerous precedent."
Yake said that the Committee also objects to the establishment of a commercial well for the purpose of transporting more than 100 million gallons per year off the property where the well is located, a clear violation of local zoning ordinances, he said.
"Third, we are very concerned that the pumping of water is going to be done without a rigorous monitoring program, and one that will be transparent and made available to the general public," Yake added.
The Committee's viewpoints echo the remarks Yake made in an address to the New Garden Board of Supervisors on Aug. 10. Yake told the supervisors that if Artesian is granted permission to activate the well, the Committee wants input into the regulatory process of the well; specifically, to place production limitations with on-going adjustments, if needed; a full and regular disclosure of water distribution records to be supplied to New Garden Township by Artesian; and "trigger" points that can enforce these limitations.
"Do we belive that we can convince the DRBC and the DEP not to approve the well? Probably not," Yake said. "We do, however, believe that we can raise some elements in our ojection that protect the community in a way that places shackles on Artesian, that limits their ability to pump hundreds of thousands of water from that well, every day. We believe that the restrictions that could be placed on them may cause Artesian to feel that all of this is just not worth it."
"We've heard the word 'Compromise,'" said Save Our Water Committee co-founder Marion Waggoner. "The compromise that we can live with is something that gives added protection to local wells and streams. If those controls are in place, that's a reasonable solution, if we can be assured that the water could go out of here without causing any serious damage. But, the only way that's going to happen is if a strict monitoring program with public oversight is accepted, and that's what we're fighting for."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.