The faces of a thousand words
● By Richard Gaw
Over the course of the last century, the tenor and framework of who we are and what defines us best as Americans reveals itself as a still frame of truth, one that has not so much been documented as it has been captured -- snatched from a slice of a second and held, permanent, like testimony carved into rock. Most prominently, that truth -- and our most honest portrait -- has been found in photography, at moments when we are at our most heroic and jubilant, but most profoundly, when we are at our most vulnerable.
During our more than two-year coverage of the application of Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc., to activate a well at the corner of Broad Run and Newark roads in Landenberg, we have seen these expressions during interviews with farmers and horse owners and families, who feared that Artesian's presence in southern Chester County would have environmental impacts on the aquifer, local waterways and eventually, the water levels of their own wells. We have seen these expressions at town hall meetings with elected officials, where residents and scientists spoke with conviction, clarity and facts.
We have seen these expressions when consuming cup after cup of coffee with members of a grassroots organization whose members have served as human caution signs in an effort to hold Artesian to the proper checks and balances.
We have seen these expressions during the many layers of approval that this application slogged its way through -- an alphabet soup chain of regulatory agencies that last December finally cleared the way for Artesian to eventually begin to withdraw as much as 288,000 gallons of water per day from the aquifer, for distribution to the company's current -- and potentially future -- customers.
Despite our invitation to Artesian explain its reasons for submitting a Feb. 3 request for a Leave to Withdraw application with the Public Utility Commission -- one that effectively puts an end to its plans for the Broad Run aquifer -- they have politely chosen not to provide public comment. Perhaps their reasons may have to do with the major provision of the approval issued to them by the Delaware River Basin Commission last December -- one that stated that before Artesian could begin activating the well, it would need to submit to a rigorous, nine-month monitoring program to assure local authorities and regulatory agencies that these numbers will not decimate the water level in the area, and in particular, local wells and the nearby White Clay Creek.
Perhaps it was because the company still faced several layers of approval, such as having to obtain local zoning licenses from New Garden Township, as well as receive franchise approval from the PUC to expand its service area.
The real answer, however, may lay in a single word.
In its petition, Artesian stated that rather than continue to litigate with the PUC, "[Artesian] believes that foregoing the cost of continued litigation to an uncertain result in regard to this contested request for expansion of service territory is not in the best interests of the Company and its customers."
We know that during the last two years, representatives from Artesian have been at town hall meetings with hundreds of concerned residents. They have noted every fear, heard every contested word, and seen every expression.
In the end, Artesian's decision to end its application could be just a business-as-usual move for a commercial company which attempted to profit off of the natural resources of a neighboring state. Perhaps this petition was a calculated move -- a chapter marker placed on a project it may decide to address again in a few years, if the need for the well arises.
Yet, are we right to suggest that Artesian looked around, and concluded that the price of their intentions was not worth the weight of these faces they saw, each of which told a thousand words?