The campaign that pits resident Dolores Keesler against incumbent supervisor Joe Canfield is generating a lot of heat and energy in Damascus Township.
The story goes back to March, when Canfield unexpectedly made a motion to remove Keesler as the township representative to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), saying that she did not represent a majority in the township. Consequently, she was removed. Some residents were so incensed that they embarked on an effort to write in Keesler’s name on the primary ballot.
They won. Keesler is now on the ballot, challenging Canfield.
Keesler and Canfield have stated their positions on several important issues in the township.
On the persistent problem with the roads, Keesler suggests that she would work to establish an effective road management plan that would establish repair priorities that would be followed regularly.
On this issue, Canfield said, “I have been actively pursuing alternative paving that is going to be about 50% of the cost of paving done by PennDOT’s superpave spec.”
Regarding the traditional role supervisors also serving as road masters, Canfield answers, “The system of supervisor/road master has been working well for more than 100 years and I see no point in changing it.”
Keelser said, “It’s clear in the supervisor’s handbook that there is no requirement that the supervisor be a road master.”
On the allegation that township decisions are made without adequate public input or open discussion, Canfield said, “In any given situation, the board of supervisors must look at the whole picture and make decisions they believe will benefit the entire township and not just those who may have an agenda of their own.”
Keesler, however, said, “During meetings, motions are made, seconded and voted on with no revealing of what factors were used in arriving at the decision. A case in point: at the meeting of March 2011, the agenda item was simply ‘UDC,’with no explanation to promote comments. It turned out that my removal was the order of business, not the UDC itself.”
On whether gas drilling is a positive opportunity for the town, Keesler said, “It is an individual’s right to lease their land, but individuals are still accountable to neighbors and the community for the impact of activity on their land, water, etc.”
On this point, Canfield said, “If gas drilling can be done responsibly, with strong regulations, even stronger oversight and respect for property rights, it can benefit our community. Everyone is in favor of safety and quality of life, and we must find ways for all of us to work together to build Damascus Township.”
Keesler said that the permits granted to the Newfield Exploration Company to drill in the township should have been handled by the zoning hearing board and not by the supervisors. “Formerly, gas extraction was lumped under mineral extraction and as such a ‘special exception.’ To get a permit, an application had to be reviewed by the zoning hearing board, followed by a public hearing.” This power was taken away from the zoning board and given to the supervisors, all of whom had signed leases, she said.
Canfield answers, “The Zoning Hearing Board is not permitted on any site by law. In sum, the responsibility for overseeing the community ultimately lies with the board of supervisors and the planning commission.”
Canfield said further, “The biggest issue is building Damascus in a way that recognizes our responsibilities to economic growth, sensitivity to the environment and mutual respect. What we need is people to work together to build Damascus Township. What we don’t need is to have our town pulled apart at the seams by people trying to control what isn’t theirs to control.”
On this, Keesler said, “The town is like a boat that is sinking. We need to work together and not take partisan positions in secret that pits one against another.”
Keesler said she thinks that the township should “develop sustainable business opportunities like niche farming, artisanal food production, recreational facilities, developing new entrepreneurial businesses, vacation business like camps, spas, retreats, as well as retirement/health facilities (which) can be built on the resources we have in abundance, utilizing the township’s scenic beauty without gas drilling.”