Can drinking water and development co-exist?

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 11/23/21

MILFORD, PA — The Milford Township Board of Supervisors met to discuss the township’s wellhead protection ordinance at its Monday, November 15 meeting.

The ordinance, titled …

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Can drinking water and development co-exist?

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MILFORD, PA — The Milford Township Board of Supervisors met to discuss the township’s wellhead protection ordinance at its Monday, November 15 meeting.

The ordinance, titled “Wellhead / Watershed Zoning Amendment,” had been developed by Milford Township’s planning commission, together with consultant Tom Shepstone. Its goal, as stated in its most recent draft, was to protect the townships’ groundwater resources from pollution while allowing for development around its wellheads (the aboveground portion of its wells). It did this by designating wellhead protection zones, areas around the wellheads where certain types of development are forbidden or subject to conditional use, and stated that it would “reduce the potential for groundwater contamination by promoting project designs and best management practices.”

Opponents of the ordinance, primarily the Friends of the Milford Aquifer, a local advocacy group, had stated that it permitted too much development too close to the wellheads. The group’s leader, Vito DiBiasi, appeared before the board of supervisors at its Monday, November 15 meeting reinforcing that point, stating that the ordinance permitted activities that might damage the township’s water supplies, including mining operations, golf courses and dry cleaning operations.

The board’s solicitor, Anthony Magnotta, agreed that certain permitted uses might be of concern. His focus was more on another concern: that the current ordinance did not precisely delineate where each wellhead protection zone lay.

The ordinance in its latest draft defined three wellhead protection zones: one with a 400-foot radius around the wellheads, one with a 1000-foot radius, and a last one without clearly defined boundaries beyond those indicated on an included map.

The current guidelines wouldn’t be enough to delineate which parcel fell into which zone for enforcement purposes, said Magnotta.

“And also for us to put it out for public comment,” added supervisor Rachel Hendricks. “People can’t tell [whether] their property is in it or not.”

Magnotta said that he had talked with Shepstone about the issue, and that Shepstone believed that Pike County GIS could overlay a delineated map over the ordinance’s map, to create a more specified map.

The board also discussed whether the current form of the ordinance was too restrictive on development.

Hendricks brought up the concept of takings. If the township regulated private property so harshly that its owner lost the use of it, the township could be required to pay compensation for having “taken” the property.

“Do you think this is restrictive enough to reach that level?” asked Hendricks, in a question directed at Magnotta. “I certainly don’t think it was.”

Part of the issues was going to be the size of the zone, said Magnotta. There was a general understanding that properties within 400 feet of a wellhead would have restrictions, owing to the need to protect the township’s water supplies. The zones further out were less defined, especially in the absence of a delineated map.

But overall, “We would have a legitimate argument that we are not trying to take away your commercial use of the property,” he said, pointing to the ordinance’s allowance of certain types of light manufacturing in all three zones as an example.

The board of supervisors ultimately decided to take up the ordinance at a workshop session before its next meeting, and to talk with Pike County about mapping in the meantime.

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