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Chester County Press

New Garden Township's loudest voice

01/06/2015 02:58PM ● By Richard Gaw
In the rising chorus of voices that have been heard over the past year in opposition to the presence of Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. in New Garden Township and beyond – felt in the pounding of keyboards and public meeting outcry – perhaps no voice has been louder, nor had more authority, than the one being used by Sen. Andy Dinniman, 19th District representative.

In the last year, he's written letters to executives at Artesian Water Resources, as well as to the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission [PUC] and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP], in opposition to Artesian's exploring the concept of activating a well at the corner of Broad Run and Newark Roads in Landenberg. He's galvanized local groups like the Save Our Water Committee to collate the purpose of their mission, to the point where the committee has become the official citizen watchdog in the community's efforts to keep Artesian from activating the well.

On Dec. 23, just as sate officials and Artesian executives were their wrapping work on 2014, Dinniman delivered another message: that he was being given official party, or "intervener" status in the Artesian application, which will allow him to participate directly in upcoming proceedings being conducted by the PUC, as they work toward deciding on whether or not Artesian will be granted the "OK" to activate the well.

Dinniman said he is confident that a public input hearing will be scheduled in the New Garden area as soon as an administrative law judge is assigned to the case. He said that no date has been set for a public input hearing, but because the date will be dependent upon when the PUC expects to make a final decision – he anticipates that the public hearing would be held at least one month before the final decision on Artesian is made.

"From everything I have been told in Harrisburg, that the hearing will take place, because there is a large number of interveners in the community who have joined me, and whenever you have that many people write to the PUC, it significantly enhances the right to a hearing."

On Nov. 3, Artesian Water Pennsylvania, Inc. filed an application with the PUC for approval to begin water service to several properties owned by the Wilkinson family in the vicinity of Buttonwood, Broad Run and Newark roads in Landenberg, including nine properties filed by local developer Charles Wilkinson. The property owners have expressed an interest in receiving water service for their properties.

Getting good grades on a test gave them the green light to do so. Last spring, Artesian conducted a 72-hour aquifer test at the well site, extracting more than 600,000 gallons of water from the well at a rate of 200 gallons per minute. Before an overflow audience at the Avondale Fire Company on Dec. 1, John M. Thaeder, senior vice president of operations with Artesian Water Resources, told area residents that the aquifer test performed at the site gave indication that there was enough water capacity to activate the well – enough to draw a capacity of 288,000 gallons of water per day, Thaeder said.

Artesian, the application stated, expects to obtain governmental permits to operate the well by 2015. In its application to the PUC, it states that Artesian currently serves 38 residences, and projects that it will connect approximately 200 additional customers to the service area over time.

Throughout the Dec. 1 meeting, Thaeder – Artesian's lone speaker – was pummeled with heated opinions, statistical data and public backlash for more than 90 minutes. In a curious back step, Thaeder told the audience that that Artesian's development of the well will provide water to nearby Delaware, as well as to a sliver of the New Garden Township just north of the Delaware state line.

For Dinniman, the entirety of his involvement in this fight is to answer the question, 'Who's water is this?' "Does a company have a right to take the water from someone's property?" he said just before attending legislative session in Harrisburg. "Phrased again, no one denies the right for a company to make a profit, but the question is, is this profit being made at the expense of so many other residents who depend on the same water source? The difficulty is when you're dealing with water above the ground, it's a clear difference between who owns what. When you're dealing with water below the ground, it's a different equation. Even the Constitution of Pennsylvania addresses this, when it describes resources such as water as belonging to all of the people."

If it seems obvious that Dinniman is standing up for the underdog in the now year-long tussle between everyday citizens and a multi-million dollar corporate monolith, it's due in part to what he sees as a tendency of regulatory groups like the PUC and DEP to side in favor of the those with the biggest influence and the most money.

"What I have seen in my time [in the Senate] is that when it comes to water – when it comes to the transportation of natural gas – I have not seen the citizens of Pennsylvania adequately protected by either the PUC or the DEP," he said. "Therefore, it is my responsibility to put as much pressure as I can to make sure that these regulators respects the needs and rights of our citizens, as well as the rights of the big guys."

Dinniman credits the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors for choosing not to cave in to Artesian's desire to activate the well, as well as the continuing efforts of the Save Our Water Committee to challenge Artesian's claims. Dec. 8, the Committee delivered the results of an independent report done by Brickhouse Environmental, a firm hired by the committee, that examined the results of the Artesian hydrogeologic report prepared in August that supports the company's belief that the 288,000 gallons of water the company said can be drawn from the well per day without impact to neighboring wells or wetlands. The report disputed Artesian's claim that there is enough water to go around.

"In summary, the production of 200 gallons per minute from the Broad Run Production well will have no significant impact on basin water resources, stream flow in Broad Run and existing domestic wells in New Garden Township," Artesian's report stated.

"I know that if someone doesn't challenge Artesian's conclusions, that [their data] will be accepted as correct," Dinniman said. "People operate in their own interests. The Save Our Water Committee has done their own study, which has come to opposite conclusions, and means that the DEP now has to be an honest broker, and not be bias."

While the final decision to approve or reject Artesian's application to activate the Landenberg well is still months away, it is safe to say that anyone with a stake in this issue (or a well whose water levels could be affected if Artesian goes live with theirs) has adopted their own mode of behavior. The pessimists believe that David – in this case, Dinniman, New Garden Township officers and a citizens brigade – can not stop Goliath. The optimists contend that even the smallest of forces can defeat a stronger foe, but is the realists – those who link supportive data with a willingness to compromise – who Dinniman believes are taking the best approach.

"The easy argument is that there is no reason that there needs to be 288,0000 gallons of water per day used for 38 households, unless the number is being drawn up to account for future development," he said. "We can look at a glass half filled, and we could be a pessimist and say there's no way we can fill that glass, or we can decide we can fill that glass. The movement that I am a part of clearly believes that we can fill the glass.

"Now, its better to have it three quarters filled than an empty glass. When you aim for the moon and end up on a star, you still have succeeded. If we worry that the glass is going to be completely empty by giving Artesian the right to activate the well, then it is far better to have a glass that's three-quarters filled, than one that's completely empty."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].