Communication troubles at the Milford Planning Commission

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 8/31/21

MILFORD, PA — When the members of the Milford Township Planning Commission met on Tuesday, August 24 to discuss protecting the township’s water sources, that conversation was already well …

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Communication troubles at the Milford Planning Commission

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MILFORD, PA — When the members of the Milford Township Planning Commission met on Tuesday, August 24 to discuss protecting the township’s water sources, that conversation was already well underway.

Earlier work from the planning commission, together with consultant Tom Shepstone, had produced a draft Wellhead and Water Protection Ordinance. That draft had gone through numerous revisions to reach the commission’s August 24 meeting.

Even so, the public comment period brought up issues with communication and collaboration that had left important information in the development of the ordinance off the table.

Maria Farrell, a member of the advocacy group the Friends of the Milford Aquifer, asked about the level of protection the ordinance would provide. The ordinance as currently written would protect the township’s wellheads, she said, but not the broader watershed system surrounding them.

“You can’t regulate to the degree you want,” said the commission’s solicitor, Tom Farley. “Or you’re not going to have any development in this area.”

The ordinance looked to satisfy residents and developers both, he said. While the commission wanted to protect Milford’s water sources, it wanted to do so in a way that allowed for development.

Besides, the commission wanted to leave the regulations of the ordinance somewhat loose; extra restrictions could always be added to individual projects at the conditional-use stage, protecting the area’s water sources through individual decisions of the commission.

Farrell asked as well about the Source Water Protection Plan (SWPP)—had it been considered? Would it be included?

No one on the planning commission seemed aware of what it was.

Chairman Scott Sheldon of the Milford Water Authority (MWA), which provides water from the Milford Springs to the Borough of Milford and parts of Milford, Dingman and Westfall townships, chimed in over Zoom to clarify.

The SWPP was a study conducted in 2006 for the Borough of Milford, examining the Milford Springs and the aquifer that supplies them. It describes the sources and the vulnerabilities of the springs, and describes what actions the MWA can take to protect their quality.

The MWA had asked for it to be appended to the ordinance, said Sheldon. He had talked with members of the planning commission at previous workshop meetings, and had followed up with several emails.

None of the planning commission members present at those meetings could recall the plan in any detail; Farley said he hadn’t been at those meetings, and that this was the first he was hearing of it.

“Does that plan as you call it relate specifically to land within Milford Township?” asked commission chairman Robert DiLorenzo.

Yes, it did; the water sources that Milford Township’s ordinance sought to protect had been surveyed as part of the SWPP.

Farley said that he would read it and consider it for inclusion between then and the commission’s next meeting: “Obviously [the ordinance] is not moving toward the supervisors tonight.”

In a follow-up public comment period, Vito DiBiasi, leader of the Friends of the Milford Aquifer, expressed further concerns about the ordinance. There were ways for the planning commission to override the ordinance, he said, allowing further development even after it was passed.

“I don’t know what you mean by an override, sir, if I’m being honest with you,” said Farley. There was language to further restrict development if potentially dangerous chemicals had been left out, but nothing to loosen any protections.

DiBiasi said he’d heard it from MWA representatives in a meeting the previous night.

MWA representative Doug Manion said that the MWA had mentioned overrides, but in a different context. In the Dingman Township water protection ordinance, which the MWA had been consulted for, there was language forbidding the ordinances from being overridden by other factors, language that was missing from the Milford ordinance.

That language was unnecessary, said Farley. Neither the planning commission nor the supervisors had the authority to override zoning ordinances.

The meeting concluded with members of the planning commission agreeing to communicate with the MWA, to make up for any prior breakdown in communications.

“I’m not looking for blame,” said Farley. “I’m just looking to get up to speed.”

For a link to the wellhead ordinance on the Milford Borough site, visit www.bit.ly/3BnqJMV.

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