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Editorial: Andy's army

09/29/2015 01:48PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

Moments into the Sept. 15 meeting of the Delaware River Basin Committee's [DRBC] Board of Governors meeting, Kelly Heffner, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] deputy secretary and state liaison to the DRBC board, said that she would make a motion at the board's meeting the next day to put any ruling on the request of Artesian Resources to activate the Broad Run well in Landenberg on hold, at least until the board's next meeting in December.

The next day, the board officially tabled their decision. It was a decision that sent a clear and resounding message that the coalition of local environmentalists, legislators and residents opposed to Artesian's presence in New Garden Township had galvanized their outrage, and turned it into fact and evidence – providing a case strong enough to give one of the premiere environmental governing bodies in the Northeast pause. Even after Heffner's declaration, more than one dozen speakers hammered their arguments home before the board, citing engineering studies, quoting statistics and sharing their personal stories. The effect was like hearing the sound of a final nail driven into a piece of wood.

Ever since Artesian first began to inquire about the possibility of tapping the Broad Run well more than a year ago, opposition to Artesian has grown from a trickling to a tidal wave. Guided – some would say inspired – by the steady and persistent voice of State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, these collective voices have formed what Dinniman referred to at the Sept. 15 meeting as "an environmental ethic." They now boast more than 2,000 people in its membership, and yet, what makes this movement so impressive is not measured by its growing advocacy, but in the continuity and clarity of its message. In short, these efforts are not merely the hollow shout of emotions, but rather, the tireless discourse of individuals like David Yake and Marion Waggoner of the Save Our Water Committee – both Ph.Ds and former executives at DuPont – who continue to provide scientific data that aims to refute Artesian's claim that activating the well would have no negative impact on local wells and the environment. It is read in the letters of Dr. Denis Newbold, formerly of the Stroud Water Research Center, sent to the right agencies, and heard in the passion of Jan Bowers, executive director of the Chester County Water Resources Authority, who offered to have the Authority host a work session, made up of governing agencies, environmental experts and concerned residents, in order to address comments and suggestions about the Artesian application.

Ultimately, the future of Artesian's request – expected to be reached by the DRBC board when it meets again in December – will come down to science. Artesian Resources has been in operation for more than 100 years, and is currently the eighth-largest investor-owned water utility in the United States. The company supplies over 7.6 billion gallons of water per year across 280 miles of water service territory. Throughout their testimony, delivered with professionalism and a full disclosure of data, Artesian officials have told New Garden Township residents and governing authorities that it is not their intention to harm the environment, nor empty local wells, through the activation of this well – one that they currently own.

By all accounts, they are probably right.

But what if they're not?

That is the question that more than 2,000 authorities, organizations and common citizens have been raising, in unison, for more than a year, and if there is ever a doubt as to the impact this opposition has had on the DRBC decision, consider this: Were this movement never to have been conceived, formed and cultivated, might Artesian's request to activate the Broad Run well skipped itself happily through the vetting process – right or wrong?

Because of the efforts of many, we will never know.


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