My view

Ordinance breakthrough possible

By VITO DIBIASI
Posted 7/21/21

The Milford Aquifer concern is a 55-year-old generational problem. 

We know where the aquifer is. We know the geological and hydrological function of an “unconfined” aquifer. We …

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My view

Ordinance breakthrough possible

Posted

The Milford Aquifer concern is a 55-year-old generational problem. 

We know where the aquifer is. We know the geological and hydrological function of an “unconfined” aquifer. We have the science now that links impervious surfaces to water degradation. We can look to our neighboring towns—New Windsor, NY and Newburgh, NY—to see what happens when the aquifer is not protected. We are seeing the devastating effects that climate change has on our most precious resources, like drinking water. We also know more about how toxic chemicals are introduced into our water systems. 

We cannot bury our heads in the sand any longer. The same old arguments used to justifying intensive development on aquifers are tired and wearing thin. I am a pragmatic, concerned environmentalist in a tight-knit Republican area. However, I believe aquifer protection is an investment in our community. It is a concern that crosses all political persuasions. There is also a moral obligation to protect this precious resource not just for ourselves but also for future generations. 

Because this is such an entrenched problem, we knew this kind of change was not going to be easy. But real change begins with education, self-reflection and a change in heart as to what your priorities should be. I stand by the importance of our mission, the relevance of our new Facebook group, Friends of the Milford Aquifer, and the accuracy of our research. This is a new learning experience for all of us. This problem can only be solved with very honest and pointed productive conversations and negotiations.

With the usually limited information on the Milford Township website, the current efforts by the Milford Township Shepstone Draft Ordinance to conceal the aquifer and minimize its importance are unacceptable and counterproductive. As of the July 7 Milford Township meeting, they are still clinging to the flimsy 1,000-foot radius that they now call Zone B. 

They melt away the borders of the Milford Water Authority’s hydrologist-delineated aquifer into Zone C of the watershed borders from the 2005 Source Water Protection Study. They then take the conditional uses, which are appropriate for a watershed zone, and place them over the now indistinguishable aquifer zone.

Friends of the Milford Aquifer contend that the sensitive sand and gravel aquifer zone should have more conditional use restrictions than the wider watershed zone—not the same. An aquifer zone is very different than the wider watershed zone. The aquifer zone is an “unconfined aquifer,” meaning it is just sand and gravel all the way down to the water below. 

The watershed zone is a “confined aquifer” where the water below is protected by layers of bedrock. You have to drill for water in a “confined” aquifer. By contrast, if you were to pour 25 gallons of oil on the 44-acre former Latimore property, the oil would immediately go down through the sand and gravel to the water below and be at the Milford Springs 3,000 feet away in as little as eight hours. It was this explanation that killed the Home Depot project in 2000. For your information, Chant is currently selling this same 44 acres of 100 percent aquifer land as a “Prime Commercial Site!!!” for $2.2 million. 

Many reputable professional people and organizations agree with our position. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network delivered six pages of concerned comments that closely align with the Friends of the Milford Aquifer’s requests at the July 7 Milford Township Planning Commission meeting. The Pinchot Family also sent a letter requesting restricted permitted uses in the aquifer and watershed zones. 

Friends of the Milford Aquifer were completely disappointed at this same July 7 meeting when the Model Wellhead Ordinance that we provided two weeks ago, by the well respected professional planner Charlie Schmehl, had not even been considered. Charlie, from Urban Research and Development Corporation, is the planner for Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Reading, Williamsport and many more cities and towns in Northeast and Central Pennsylvania. What we like about the Schmehl Ordinance is that 1) the word “aquifer” is part of the definitions, 2) the aquifer is recognized in the zone delineations and 3) the delineated aquifer zone has more development restrictions than the broader watershed zone.

By contrast, Shepstone advertised his ordinance as “business-friendly” with “simplified language.” Why and for whom? If you study his inadequate zones and dangerous conditional permitted uses on the aquifer, you can see just how “business-friendly” and “simplified” this draft is. For example, the Shepstone Ordinance permits terminal warehouses, liquid oil and gasoline pipelines, manufacturing and other inappropriate uses in Zones B and C. Remember, Zone B is 400 to 1,000 feet from the springs. Zone C starts at 1,000 feet, about where Schocopee Road intersects Route 6. Now do you understand the threat this ordinance poses? 

Friends of the Milford Aquifer is also calling upon Dingman Township to join with the Milford Township and the Milford Water Authority, along with representatives from Milford Borough, to all sit down and hammer out the best ordinance possible for the health and safety of the communities they represent. 

The aquifer spreads across multiple municipalities and is the drinking water for others. Each municipality having its own source water ordinance constructs and language, protecting the same aquifer and watershed, is confusing and counterproductive. Because this is a cross-municipal issue, the drinking water public deserves a cross-municipal solution that protects the Milford Springs in a comprehensive way. 

If this is such a radical and unthinkable idea, then maybe it is time for a different approach and political leadership in solving this 55-year-old generational problem. 

I believe there is hope. The political winds are changing and Milford Township is moving in the right direction. The Pike County political leadership also seems to be getting the message. The Milford Water Authority has agreed to partner with Friends of the Milford Aquifer to find conservation easement funding to get this aquifer zone land off the open market. We hope that both the municipalities and county governments will eventually follow suit. This will take time, however. That is why, in the meantime, ordinance and zoning protection for the aquifer are key to this overall strategy. 

 Now is the time for the voting public to be vigilant of the twists and turns this complicated issue will take. It is only through your attention, raised voices and voting power that this issue will conclude to the benefit of the entire community—not just that of special interests and their powerful backers.

 If you what further information on this topic or want to lend your talent to this effort, visit the Friends of the Milford Aquifer Facebook page at www.bit.ly/3hMGm9V. There, we address all the counterarguments to this issue and we have other sample wellhead protection ordinances to look at. We have primary source studies, letters, maps and diagrams that explain this issue in detail. 

Vito DiBiasi is the communications representative for the Friends of the Milford Aquifer organization.

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