Residents testify against plans for pumping station
NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP - The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission held two public hearings Dec. 12 on Newtown Artesian Water Co.’s plans to build a 228,000 gallon-a-day groundwater pumping station in Newtown Township.
Most area residents who tesWLfiHd HxSUHssHd IHDUs WhDW WhHLU well-water levels could be advHUsHOy DIIHcWHd.
ThH WZR ORcDO SuEOLc IRUuPs, which were held at 1 and 6:30 p.m. at the township building on Durham Road, gave property owners a chance to voice their concerns about the privately-run uWLOLWy’s SURSRsDO Dnd LI LW ZRuOd DIIHcW WhHLU RZn ZHOOs Ln WhH nRUWhHDsW cRUnHU RI WhH WRZnshLS.
,W cDOOs IRU cRnsWUucWLng D ZHOO house on an undersized lot on the privately-owned Tanner Lawn and Snow Store property along Newtown-Washington Crossing Road (Route 532) near Eldridge Road in the township’s Conservation Management (CM) Zoning District.
About 15 area residents turned RuW DW WhH fiUsW 38C hHDULng, ZhLch ODsWHd DERuW Dn-hRuU-Dnd-D-hDOI. 0RsWOy DOO RI WhRsH ZhR WHsWLfiHd have their own groundwater systems, and all opposed the pumping station.
Barry Roberts of Washington Crossing Road operates a family farm and plant nursery on the property next to the facility.
With two groundwater wells on his land, Roberts said that he’s worried about low water levels, rather than the aesthetics of the proposed pumping station itself.
“If our water fails, what do we do,” he declared. “My cuttings need a lot of water.”
Roberts wanted assurances from Newtown Artesian that water would be provided to his farm if his wells run dry.
“If we have to buy water, we’re done,” Roberts exclaimed. “We’re out of business.”
Roberts’ neighbor, hathleen heyser of Winding Lane, echoed that sentiment.
“The proposed well has the potential to dry up neighboring wells,” said heyser, who operates a horse farm.
She also expressed concern that utility’s pumping station would not meet the minimum land requirements to put a pumping station in Newtown Township’s conservation district.
But Newtown Artesian’s general counsel Brenden Brett told the residents that the proposed well would be similar WR WKH FRPSDny’s fivH H[LsWLnJ ZHOOs Ln WKH DUHD, DnG RnOy would pump only as much water as needed.
According to Brett, if neighboring wells are affected once the pump is built, the company would connect those property owners to the water company free of charge, or pay to dig them another well. “That’s our responsibility,” Brett assured the residents. Meanwhile, duy Polhemus, who lives on Washington CURssLnJ 5RDG MusW RvHU WKH ERUGHU Ln 8SSHU 0DNHfiHOG Township, said that that granting the utility’s request could set a zoning precedent in the area.
“It’s going to have a big impact on myself and my neighERUs, DnG D ELJ LnfluHnFH Rn GHvHORSPHnW,” KH FODLPHG, “Ds time goes on, water is going to become more and more of an issue.”
gudith Norkin, who lives in a housing development on Cliveden Drive and is a Newtown Artesian customer, questioned whether surrounding aquifers can adequately handle such a large pumping station.
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Harrisburg attorney Thomas Niesen, who is representing the water company in the PUC proceedings, said that engineering studies, which are part of the PUC process, will determine how quickly aquifers can be replenished.
“Based on work done so far, the aquifer is capable of handling the water,” Niesen explained.
However, Pam citzpatrick of Stoopville Road, who lives DERuW D PLOH IURP WKH SURSRsHG sLWH, WHsWLfiHG WKDW sKH sR far has never had a problem with her groundwater supply.
“There would be no way to prove if my well fails that it would be due to the Newtown Artesian Water Company,” she argued.
8SSHU 0DNHfiHOG 6uSHUvLsRU LDUUy BUHHGHn DOsR DSSHDUHG DW WKH fiUsW P8C KHDULnJ sDyLnJ WKDW KH ZDs WKHUH not representing that township’s board of supervisors, but instead speaking for his constituents.
“Some people in the Dolington area have water problems,” he noted. “The concern that my constituent base has is what affect is this going to have on their wells and on future wells.”
PUC Administrative Law gudge Angela gones, who presided over the public hearings, said she will eventually determine whether the Newtown Artesian’s request to build the pumping station is “reasonably necessary for its operations.”
gones said that in order to keep customer rates down a 1996 P8C DuGLW DGvLsHG WKH FRPSDny WR finG RWKHU sRuUFHs and rely less on buying water from the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority.
Newtown Artesian argues that it needs the new well to meet the area’s growing water demand. The utility claims that a new well would hold the cost of water down and make it less expensive than what it would be if it bought water from third parties.
1LHsHn sDLG WKDW WKH FRPSDny DOUHDGy RSHUDWHs fivH ZHOOs in the area, but needs another one to “recharge the water sources, particularly in the summer months.”
In an effort to circumvent a protracted zoning battle with WKH WRZnsKLS suSHUvLsRUs, WKH ZDWHU FRPSDny fiOHG WKH PUC application in early October seeking permission to build the pumping station in the conservation district.
Under state law, the PUC has the authority to grant the request, overriding local zoning and land use ordinances.
The township supervisors voted to formally oppose the utility’s efforts to obtain the needed township zoning variances in order to construct the facility on an undersized lot on the Tanner property.
The supervisors questioned the company’s request to use only 2.5 acres in the CM Zoned District, instead of the required 10-acre minimum. In addition to a variance for the required minimum lot size, the utility also had been seeking three other land-use waivers from the township. The utility has about 500 customers in the CM district. To assist in its opposition to the PUC application, the supervisors has hired outside counsel Thomas Sniscak of the HDUULsEuUJ ODZ fiUP RI HDZNH 0F.HRn & 6nLsFDN, ZKLFK specializes in regulatory matters.
In his opening remarks, Sniscak accused Newtown Artesian of an “end run around land and zoning requirements.”
“They should have gone through that xzoning] process and let it play out,” he asserted. “If the PUC grants their request I hope it attaches appropriate conditions.”
In a 1996 audit of Newtown Artesian, gudge gones said the PUC advised the company that in order to keep its rates GRZn LW sKRuOG finG RWKHU sRuUFHs, DnG UHOy OHss Rn EuyLnJ water from the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority.
The locally-based Newtown Artesian, which was incorporated in 1888, serves Newtown Borough, as well as Newtown Township and the northern part of Middletown Township. It has about 10,000 customers, roughly T,500 of them are in in Newtown Township.
Both sides will now assess the public record of the PUC proceedings. If needed, evidentiary hearings will be scheduled to determine whether there should be any expert testimony.
The administrative law judge said that a decision could be handed down sometime in May whether Newtown Artesian can go ahead with the pumping station.
Either side can then challenge the determination in Commonwealth Court.