Order breakthrough possible | The river reporter
By VITO DIBIASI
The Milford Aquifer problem is a 55 year old generational problem.
We know where the aquifer is. We know the geological and hydrological function of a “free” aquifer. We now have the science that connects impermeable surfaces to water degradation. We can look to our neighboring cities — New Windsor, NY and Newburgh, NY — to see what happens when the aquifer is not protected. We are seeing the devastating effects of climate change on our most precious resources, like clean water. We also know more about how toxic chemicals are introduced into our water supply systems.
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. The same old arguments used to justify intensive aquifer development are tired and worn out. I am a pragmatic and concerned environmentalist in a tight-knit Republican zone. However, I believe that protecting aquifers is an investment in our community. It is a concern that cuts across all political trends. There is also a moral obligation to protect this precious resource not only for ourselves but also for future generations.
Because this is such a deep-rooted issue, we knew this kind of change wouldn’t be easy. But real change starts with education, self-reflection, and a change of heart as to what your priorities should be. I maintain the importance of our mission, the relevance of our new Facebook group, Friends of the Milford Aquifer, and the accuracy of our research. It’s a new learning experience for all of us. This problem can only be resolved with very honest and focused productive conversations and negotiations.
With the generally limited information on the Milford Township website, the current efforts of the Milford Township Shepstone Draft Order to cover up the aquifer and downplay its importance are unacceptable and counterproductive. At the Milford Township July 7 meeting, they still cling to the fragile 1,000-foot radius they now call Zone B.
They melt the boundaries of the aquifer delineated by hydrologists from the Milford Water Authority in Zone C of the watershed boundaries of the 2005 Spring Water Protection Study. They then take the conditional uses, which are appropriate for a watershed area, and place them on the now indistinguishable aquifer area.
Friends of the Milford Aquifer argue that the sensitive sand and gravel aquifer area should have more conditional use restrictions than the larger watershed area, which is not the same. An aquifer area is very different from the larger area of the watershed. The aquifer zone is an “unconfined aquifer”, which means that it is only sand and gravel to the water below.
The watershed area is a “confined aquifer” where the water below is protected by layers of bedrock. You have to drill for water in a “confined” aquifer. On the other hand, if you were to pour 25 gallons of oil on the old 44-acre Latimore property, the oil would immediately descend through the sand and gravel to the water below and be in Milford Springs at 3 000 feet 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 those same 44 acres of aquifer land 100 percent as a “Premier Business Site !!!” For $ 2.2 million.
Many reputable people and professional organizations agree with our position. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network delivered six pages of concerned comments that closely match the Friends of the Milford Aquifer requests at the Milford Township Planning Commission meeting on July 7. The Pinchot family also sent a letter requesting restricted uses allowed in the aquifer and watershed areas.
The Friends of the Milford Aquifer were utterly disappointed at that same meeting on July 7, when the Model Wellhead Ordinance we provided two weeks ago, by well-respected professional planner Charlie Schmehl , had not even been considered. Charlie, of Urban Research and Development Corporation, is the planner in Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Reading, Williamsport and many other towns in northeastern 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 boundaries and 3) the demarcated aquifer zone has more restrictions of development than the larger area of the watershed.
In contrast, Shepstone announced that his prescription was “user friendly” with “simplified language”. Why and for who ? If you study its inadequate areas and dangerous conditional permitted uses on the aquifer, you can see how “user friendly” and “streamlined” this project is. For example, Shepstone’s ordinance allows terminal warehouses, liquid petroleum and gasoline pipelines, manufacturing and other improper uses in zones B and C. Remember that zone B is 400 to 1,000 feet from the springs. Zone C begins at 1000 feet, roughly at the intersection of Schocopee Road and Highway 6. Do you now understand the threat this order poses?
Friends of Milford Aquifer are also calling on Dingman Township to join Milford Township and Milford Water Authority, as well as Milford Borough representatives, to all sit down and craft the best order. possible for the health and safety of the communities they represent.
The aquifer spans several municipalities and is drinking water for others. Each municipality having its own constructions and ordinance languages on spring water, protecting the same aquifer and the same watershed, is confusing and counterproductive. Because this is an intermunicipal problem, the public drinking water deserves an intermunicipal solution that protects Milford Springs holistically.
If this is such a radical and unthinkable idea, then perhaps it is time to take a different approach and political leadership to address this 55-year-old generational problem.
I believe there is hope. Political winds are changing and Milford Township is moving in the right direction. Pike County political leaders also appear to have gotten the message. The Milford Water Authority has agreed to partner with the Friends of the Milford Aquifer to find conservation easement funds to remove these lands from the aquifer zone from the open market. We hope that municipalities and county governments will eventually follow suit. It will take time, however. That is why, in the meantime, the ordinance and protection of aquifer zoning are at the heart of this comprehensive strategy.
Now is the time for the voting public to be vigilant about the twists and turns this complicated issue will take. It is only with your attention, your high voices and your voting power that this problem will end for the benefit of the whole community, not just that of special interests and their powerful supporters.
If you’d like more information on this topic, or if you’d like to put your talent to work in this effort, visit the Friends of the Milford Aquifer Facebook page at www.bit.ly/3hMGm9V. There we get to all the counter arguments to this question and we have other examples of wellhead protection orders to consider. We have primary source studies, letters, maps, and diagrams that explain this problem in detail.
Vito DiBiasi is the communications representative of the Friends of the Milford Aquifer organization.