Two Updates on Water and Related Environmental Rights Issues

Posted over at Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition:

Spring Creek Watershed Action Plan (SCWAP) Update from Terry Melton

  • “…In conclusion, the top metrics agreed upon for measuring water quality were: macroinvertebrates, temperature, chlorine, chloride, nutrients, sediment, dissolved oxygen (DO), and flow…The meeting concluded with a plan for both water quality and water quantity groups to meet again on September 20, 7 pm, Ferguson Township building.”

Updates from a Chester County Court Battle of People v. Toll Brothers

  • “…As this conditional use application from Toll Brothers would permanently impair environmental and historic resources at Crebilly Farm, the Environmental Rights Amendment must take precedence over the conditional use process since the state Constitution supersedes all laws passed by the legislature…”
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SCWAP Update from David Roberts – August 30, 2018

A SCWAP update from David Roberts is now posted at the NVEC website.

Excerpts:

“…There was some discussion that Spring Creek may be compared to the Valley Creek watershed at Valley Forge PA. The Valley Creek is sort of Spring Creek in miniature and has been critically degraded due to overdevelopment.

Spring Creek watershed may be approaching a tipping point with no return due to development. Control of development and direction of development into areas that have minimized impact to the watershed are essential to protect the health of the watershed.

There is a big question as to the actual area of impervious surfaces in our watershed.

One estimate places impervious surfaces at 15% of the total watershed area and another places it at about 8%. This is quite a discrepancy that must be resolved…”

WRRP Development Update

Also, for those interested in the proposed Whitehall Road Regional Park as it relates to watershed-endangering overdevelopment, the CNET video of the August 27, 2018 Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum meeting is now posted.

Citizen comments – including several by NVEC members – run for about the first hour, and then the legislators’ discussion ran for about 45 minutes a little later in the meeting.

Spring Creek Watershed Action Plan Update from David Roberts

David Roberts, Chair of the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition Working Group for the Spring Creek Watershed Action Plan, attended the first meeting of a new technical work group established by the Spring Creek Watershed Commission, on Thursday, August 23.

Links to David Roberts’ meeting notes, SCWC meeting notes, a participants list, and project funding data:

Key excerpts from David’s report:

SCWAP Goals

The overall goal is for Restoration, Protection, and Sustainable Usage of the water in the 
Spring Creek Watershed through an “integrated, one-water plan.”

  • Phase 1 was completed in 2003.
  • The current project is Phase 2, focused on project identification and implementation. The timeframe for completion of Phase 2 is within months, not years.
  • Phase 3 will be tracking new data and evaluating success of Phase 2 plan implementation.

Brief Overview of Spring Creek Watershed

Watershed includes Spring Creek, five major tributaries, and numerous smaller tributaries. The watershed covers an area of 146 square miles (approximately 43,000 acres) and touches 14 local municipalities.

Watershed population has increased rapidly since 2000, from 106,006 people to 130,748 as of 2017. 
Population data does not appear to 
include PSU University Park population.

Some streams are designated as high quality cold water fisheries.

Twenty-five (25) miles of streams and tributaries are classified as degraded and impaired including Slab Cabin Run and the main stem of Spring Creek, suffering impairments such as sedimentation and siltation; low dissolved oxygen levels; thermal modifications from agriculture, golf course, and stormwater runoff; heavy metals; organics; point source discharges; nitrogen; and total dissolved solids.

The Phase 1 Plan (completed in 2003) identified issues and concerns about the health of the watershed. Many of those same issues still remain.

NVEC requested current data on the amount of impervious surfaces in the watershed. 
Available estimates are a few years old and place impervious surfaces at approximately 15%. Other watershed studies have shown that over 10% impervious surfaces are deadly to native trout populations. The Spring Creek trout population persists due to the karst geological formations that provide cold water spring habitats.

Next Steps

At the technical work group meeting August 23, Janie French, Executive Director of Headwaters Charitable Trust and facilitator of the SCWAP Phase II project, presented an overview of the steps needed, including:

  • Determining the current health status of the watershed
  • Bringing together existing data and ideas in a useable format.
  • Identifying and filling data gaps

The technical work groups will meet several more times in September and early October to collate available data, ahead of a public outreach/public education meeting October 18.

More details on some of the participating technical work group members:

The Spring Creek Watershed Commision Water Resource Monitoring Project (WRMP) maintains 27 water quality monitoring stations in Spring Creek and tributaries recording water flow and temperature, and monitoring other water quality parameters such as inorganic chemicals. Reports are available online for years 1999 to 2017 and the 2018 report will soon be posted

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is an interstate regulatory agency responsible for regulation of water withdrawals, including consumptive use and high volume withdrawals from surface and groundwater sources, and plays a support role for water quality and water protection issues.

Spring Creek Watershed Action Plan Update

In the short-, medium- and long-term, it appears that the best way for concerned citizens to protect our regional water supply and the ecosystems that depend on it for life, including the human population, is to adopt a watershed action plan that has strong enforcement components.

On July 10, the Spring Creek Watershed Commission (SCWC) kicked off the process of updating the Spring Creek Watershed Action Plan (SCWAP), which was abandoned in 2003 after Phase 1, due to funding and civic momentum shortfalls.

SCWC has created an excellent new website, including a page for coordination of the update process.

The update process is being led by Janie French, executive director of Headwaters Charitable Trust.

There were about 50-60 people at the kickoff meeting, held at Calvary Baptist Harvest Fields in Boalsburg. After an introductory presentation, the group was split into four smaller groups to begin talking about what we want our watershed community to look like in the future, and what actions could contribute to bringing about those results. Then there was a report-back.

One of the key issues identified by all four small groups was the need for watershed protection measures to be locally enforceable, to “have teeth.”

Ms. French then announced that the four groups would be meeting bimonthly during July, August and early September to continue the process of reviewing the Phase 1 report and setting foundations for the drafting of Phase 2. Public, large-group meetings will then resume, probably in September and October.

Broad community engagement is important, so if you didn’t go to the July 10 kickoff meeting but would like to get involved in the small group meetings, please contact SCWC Communications Coordinator Caitlin Teti at springcreekwatershedcommission@gmail.com and ask to be added to one of the small groups meeting for the next few weeks.

SCBWA board denies Toll Brothers easement request

On Thursday, July 19, the State College Borough Water Authority Board denied Toll Brothers request for an easement which, if granted, would have allowed the developer to run a high-pressure sewage pipeline across SCBWA land purchased in 2008 for water conservation, with deed restrictions memorializing that purpose and running with the land.

6.20.08 PSU to SCBWA Deed

The vote was 4-1, with Bernie Hoffnar, Bill Burgos, Rachel Brennan and Jason Grottini voting to deny the easement, Gary Petersen voting to grant the easement, Jeff Kern not voting and not abstaining, and Emory Enscore absent.

The video from the meeting is available via CNET on YouTube.

It was a remarkable result, and the discussion was riveting, focused on the water board’s ethical obligations to protect public water.

The discussion also included the revelation that Toll Brothers attorneys threatened to file suit in federal court if the water board used its discretion as landowner to deny the easement.

SCBWA Update; NVEC Memo to CRPRA

SCBWA Meeting July 19

The State College Borough Water Authority will be reconsidering Toll Brothers’ request for an easement permitting construction of a sewage conveyance pipeline across deed-restricted conservation land owned by SCBWA, at the water authority’s meeting Thursday July 19 at 4 p.m. at 1201 West Branch Road.

For background, please read May 1, May 7 and May 21, 2018 Bailiwick News reporting.

See also: Attorney Jordan Yeager letter to SCBWA re: proposed easement, legal implications of covenant on SCBWA land – 5.3.18 Yeager Letter to SCBWA

Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition July 9, 2018 Memorandum to Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority Board regarding Whitehall Road Regional Park Design Considerations

7.9.18 NVEC Letter to CPRPA Re WRRP

From G. Randolph Hudson, Architect, LEED AP, and Chair, NVEC Working Group for Whitehall Road Regional Parkn Design, via email to Ms. Kathleen Matason, Chair, Centre Region Parks & Recreation Authority (CRPRA) Board and Ms. Pamela Salokangas, Director, Centre Region Parks & Recreation (CRPR).

Dear Ms. Matason and Ms. Salokangas:

The proposed regional park design at Whitehall Road has a long way to go before it meets the agreed-upon needs of our local population. Ask people in our region, or anywhere, what a “park” is, and they imagine something very different from this plan. CRPR’s own surveys, from at least 2008 on, show ten times the desire for open space (trails, trees and flowers, picnic areas, sledding areas) as there is for structured sports. (11.7.08 Regional Park Survey11.7.08 Regional Park Comments)

This is consistent with surveys from around the nation.

Yet the proposed Phase One of Whitehall Road Regional Park devotes a great deal of area, and by far the greatest tax dollars, for organized sports and its parking, rather than for what the community says it needs. A great local park, on the other hand, might more closely resemble Penn State Arboretum or Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park.

THE HEART OF NITTANY VALLEY

The site of the proposed Whitehall Road Regional Park is one of the most stunning natural areas in Central Pennsylvania. It offers magnificent vistas of Mount Nittany, Tussey Ridge and thousands of acres of open fields and meadows. It defines the essence of the term “viewshed.” I strongly encourage any stakeholder who has not walked this site to do so, while all its potential can still be imagined.

Natural beauty is precious. It is why people love to live here. Particularly since the Penn State/Toll Brothers chapter, policymakers must consider not only built fields and facilities, but also preservation of resources, undeveloped views and open space, and Pennsylvania’s wildlife in determining the final mix of amenities for our region. Accordingly, Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition encourages the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority Board to take a broad view of what constitutes “Parklands.”

The current plan places far too much emphasis on team sports. This is not the place to emphasize those.

NVEC SUPPORT FOR FERGUSON TOWNSHIP LETTER

The Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition strongly supports the letter of March 21, 2018 to the CRPRA Board, written by Ferguson Township Manager David Pribulka on behalf of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors.

The Ferguson Township letter asks that the next planning and design phases adhere to the already agreed-upon principles stated in the Whitehall Road Regional Parklands Master Site Plan (“Whitehall Parklands”) document created in August 2010 for the Centre Region Council of Governments. The document was the result of a comprehensive stakeholder-supported master plan process.

Ferguson’s letter emphasizes the following points, presented here with expanded NVEC comments:

Encourage permeable paving for parking and roads.Encourage paved rather than gravel surfaces.

Additionally:

  1. Design number of parking spaces not to perceived desires, but to code minimums.
  2. Shade paved areas—both roads and parking–with trees to reduce heat islands. We understand that shading was originally planned, but later removed. This is contrary to all good planning practice in the last 20 years.
  3. Refer to LEED standards for site and other facility planning. Although certification is not required, these offer realistic and proven design guidelines.

Do not “improve” undeveloped portions of park. Since there is no timetable for future phases: Request no grading; preserve natural habitat. Consider succession planting and reforestation.

  1. Do not grade either Phase One areas labeled “Future,” or Phase Two areas. Do not disturb this local birding hotspot.
  2. As this is recent farmland, with heavy spraying, wildlife and beneficial insects have been impaired. Management plans must include cessation of herbicides and pesticides.
  3. Consider the Wildlife Management Institute’s Young Forest Guide principles, allowing areas for brush and young trees to grow up. These areas are “powerhouse” habitats for grouse, whip-poor-wills, reptiles, including turtles, and migrating birds.

Update the Parklands Master Plan for subsequent phases as Phase One is developed.

Additionally: Make this an inclusive and transparent process, with broad community input.

Green infrastructure and low impact parkland for this and subsequent phases. Consistent with 2010 planning document, through the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Mitigate light and noise pollution. Consider screening and natural buffering with height to prevent spillover light to adjacent properties.

Additionally:

  1. NVEC respectfully requests that there be no site lighting. Besides the initial and yearly expense, night lighting affects not only adjacent properties, but will be visible for miles. It disrupts views of the night sky, bird migration and human health.
  2. Consider stargazing as a popular, free outdoor activity that is difficult in town. Ideally, consider a sky observatory to complement PSU Davies Lab.
  3. If there is lighting, it should conform to International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) standards, with zero off-site light spillage. Security lighting, if any, should be by motion-detector only.
  4. Noise: NVEC respectfully requests no amplification/announcement systems. Pine Grove Mills already hears both Kocher Stables and Beaver Stadium loudspeakers. Loudspeakers here would be highly disturbing to adjacent and distant residential areas.
  5. For noise control, establish hours of operation, and standards for activities and decibel levels in accordance with local ordinances, police, and community wishes.

RECAP OF WHITEHALL PARKLANDS PRINCIPLES

NVEC respectfully offers reminders of these principles from Whitehall Parklands:

Plan first for the views and natural areas, then for the ballfields. Chapter One of Whitehall Parklands: The site is “exceptional in its scenic position with outstanding valley views” and has “spectacular…scenic values.” Any coach will tell athletes: “Keep your eye on the ball.” Views like these are vital for visitors, far less so for athletes.

Less is More. While recognizing a need for active playing fields, give top priority to lifetime activities. Or to simple relaxation. Consider also that sometimes the best thing is “nothing.” One of America’s most iconic park features, Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, has no structures or structured activity. Reserve Whitehall Parkland’s best view areas for non-sports use. From Whitehall Parklands: “…diversity of complementary activities is important to creation of a great park.”

Xeriscaping. 1. Plant native grass, shrub and tree species that, once established, require no watering, herbicides or pesticides. This provides tremendous yearly savings in maintenance. As a bonus, these will allow pollinator, beneficial insect, and bird populations to rebound. 2. Carry out sports turf design, and a management program, that reflects this.

Invasive-species control. Invasive plants are a growing problem in Ferguson Township and statewide. Invasives crowd out native plants, starving birds and wildlife; this cost must be included in operations budgeting.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS FROM NVEC

Eight years have elapsed since the original Whitehall Parklands plan. Much has changed since then, and current planning must reflect this.

Maintain safe water supplies.

Whitehall Parklands is above and within the recharge area of the Harter and Thomas well fields providing drinking water to 75,000 State College area residents, above fragile karst limestone geology prone to sinkholes and fractures.

  1. Construction and operation must not risk the safety of nearby State College Borough Water Authority wells and Slab Cabin Run. Accordingly, re-grade as little as possible of either Phase One or Phase Two. Do not re-grade now for future facilities.
  2. Plan now for who is responsible if wells or stream are damaged.
  3. Consider having the State College Borough Water Authority board certify the project as non-risk, absolving the Parks Authority and COG of liability for damages.

Provide the full range of amenities at every phase, including Phase One

At every phase, the Parklands should contain the full blend of active, passive and natural areas, in similar proportions to those at completion of all phases. Phase One must, at a minimum, include the community gardens designated as “future” in the site plan.

Providing this full range will be more economical than a plan that prioritizes sports fields. It will help meet the three General Forum goals: small enough to cost $4.8 million or less; within the (Whitehall Parklands) design area and with a broad enough range of features to be accepted unanimously by municipal legislators as a “regional” park.

Are sports fields in fact necessary?

A casual drive around our region shows dozens of empty municipal and school fields everywhere, at all hours. A simple scheduling fix could eliminate or greatly reduce the need for expensive new fields.

  1. Confirm current regional capacity and needs.
  2. If the desire is for club tournaments, then recognize that concentrating the fields in one location may be ideal, but it is not a need.

Re-Consider Artificial Turf.

The manufacture of artificial turf is highly energy-intensive and has severe impacts on water supplies. Surface runoff of rubber and plastic micro-particles will discharge directly into our water supply.

  1. Consider installing natural turf only, incorporating a “resting” field to allow recovery between seasons/years of use.
  2. If artificial turf is used, apply current best practices for sourcing the materials and managing runoff. This discipline is evolving rapidly.

Advanced Engineering for All Aspects.

Sophisticated engineering can be applied to all features of the Parklands, not only sports fields.

  1. Consider hydro-engineering to provide water features, including water for birds and wildlife, and as viewer focal points.
  2. Consider engineered gravel for roadways.
  3. Incorporate outdoor learning and STEM opportunities for local students.

Consider Topography.

The proposed Parklands occupy a “hogback”: a high tableland with stunning 360-degree views. No plans or studies, even Whitehall Parklands, have included slope analysis.

  1. The best views must be reserved for the amenities that benefit from views.
  2. The rise tilts down toward Whitehall Road, therefore fields may be highly visible. Consider this in final layout of fields vs. natural areas.
  3. Minimize re-grading, cut and fill, and retaining walls. Consider a peer review of current site plan document. There are large potential cost savings even in Phase One.

Fill in the Skipped Steps.

 Whitehall Road Regional Park was planned in 2010 by an interdisciplinary team of land planners and landscape architects, with input from a wide range of stakeholders. Fast forward to 2018. Construction documents are being drawn for a piece of that plan by a very capable firm, but one whose core business is infrastructure engineering. In my experience, when that much time has elapsed, there is a re-visit of basic programming assumptions and design response.

  1. Considering what our community now needs and is requesting, pause and carry out program confirmation.
  2. Before proceeding with construction drawings, hire a landscape architect firm to create schematic and preliminary landscape architecture plans that take into account views, slopes, sun; trees and other vegetation, and surface and groundwater.
  3. Carry out programming and design in a public process.

Maintain cost effectiveness.

Maintain focus on both costs of construction and of subsequent operations. Reduce cost of both, by focusing on the stated needs of the Centre Region population.

The Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition thanks you, your staff and all who have worked on this to date, and looks forward to helping to realize the fullest potential of this stunning property as true parklands for the entire community.

Sincerely,

/s/ Randy Hudson

cc via email

  • Denise Meyer, Ferguson Township Representative to CRPRA Board
  • Ferguson Township Park Committee Members: Shawna Doerksen, Niki Tourscher, Norris Muth, Connie Puckett,
    Laura Moser, Kathie Vondracek and Andrew McKinnon
  • COG Parks Capital Committee Members: Janet Engeman (State College); Laura Dininni (Ferguson Township); Bruce Lord (Harris Township); Eric Bernier (College Township); Jessica Buckland (Patton Township); Charima Young (Penn State University)
  • Dave Pribulka, Ferguson Township Manager
  • Jim Steff, Director, Centre Region COG
  • Jim May, Director, Centre Region Planning Agency