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Chester County Press

Editorial: What happens when residents work with their townships

08/23/2016 09:48AM ● By Richard Gaw
On Aug. 2, John A. Wilkens, a retired DuPont process engineering principal consultant and a resident of Kennett Township, sent his township a three-page idea for its future. Entitled “Soil Ordinance Research,” Wilkens spelled out the reasons why he felt that the township needed a soil ordinance on its books. An ordinance, he wrote, would hold future developers to assuring the land they were about to build on was below legal amounts of toxicity – about 12 mg/kg of arsenic, he suggested.
In his recommendation, Wilkens wrote that each developer would be required to submit a soil sampling from the property for analysis by environmental authorities. If the soil was found to be above safe levels, the developer would be required to be cap the soil by several inches of clean fill, an impervious surface, or remove the soil entirely. If capped, the organization that did the analysis would re-sample the property for compliance with the ordinance.
The township's board of supervisors discussed Wilkens' recommendation – which had been supported by the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County – at their Aug. 3 meeting. After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed that they would not enact any soil ordinance for the township, telling Wilkens that developers for residential sites should be held to conditions in compliance with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as with Chester County regulations.
Despite their hesitancy, the board asked township manager Lisa Moore to forward Wilkens' proposal to the township's engineers. As expected, the board agreed with the engineers that laws of this kind should ultimately be in the hands of environmental watchdogs like the DEP, but the seeds of Wilkens' idea were already firmly in the soil. Rather than completely reject the proposal, the engineers encouraged the supervisors to adopt a requirement that those who approach development in the township should be required to provide the township with an environmental impact statement related to their project. For simple applications, the statement can be a simple note, added to the record plan, stating that there are no known environmental issues found at the site.
For more complicated applications, developers would be required to provide a Phase I and Phase II environmental report that addresses any potential concerns or hazards on the site.
A draft of this legislation is currently being written.
Through diligence, long-term vision and proper research, Wilkens' proposal kick-started a conversation that led to another conversation and then another. That's what happens when residents become actively involved in their township, when they tap into the skill set of their profession – like Wilkens – or the passion of their desire for the greater good. Through circumventing their ideas through the right channels, they begin to effect positive change. They rustle up the creative stagnancy that too often inflicts our elected officials and reduces them in definition to that of plodding bean counters, hesitant to offer up large ideas for fear of alienating a portion of their constituents.
In the trenches and foxholes of our townships and municipalities, the outline of our future is being done by our citizen militia, who have little at stake except the selflessness of their actions. From committees to commissions to the volunteer armies whose tireless work leads to solutions, we, the people who live on the receiving end of their ideas, are in fact redeemed ourselves.
“The intent of this ordinance is to prevent human contact with soil containing toxic contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and organic solvents when property is developed,” Wilkens wrote. “This is a significant issue when property is proposed to be re-purposed for residential use after a history of agricultural or industrial/mechanical applications.”
The residents of Kennett Township owe John Wilkens – and the Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County – a debt of gratitude for the research that is now on the front burner of township action.


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