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Public outcry dooms bypass

May 15, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Saying they misjudged public opinion, the Washington Township Supervisors Wednesday night dropped their plan to build a controversial bypass for which they had planned to take by eminent domain farmland that has been owned by the same family since 1816.

The surprise announcement by Paul Benchoff, supervisors chairman, drew a loud round of applause from more than 50 placard-carrying residents who were at the meeting to protest what they believed was a vote to move the project forward.

The special meeting had been called so the supervisors could vote on a $5 million bond issue for the bypass through the township and around the Borough of Waynesboro.

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The bond money was to be used to pay for land acquisition and construction of the first phase of the seven-mile bypass. Some of the $5 million would have paid for construction of a new municipal office building and facility.

"We misjudged the level of support we anticipated from the community for the relief route project," Benchoff read in a statement to the audience.

"Based on your comments and suggestions we have reconsidered moving forward with the project and we will be voting to stop the bond issuance this evening," Benchoff's statement said.

"We believe that we need to plan for the future but you have made it abundantly clear that this project as presented is unacceptable," he said.

Benchoff finished with a remark about an anonymous phone call made to his home from an opponent of the bypass that involved profanity. His daughter answered the phone, he said.

"I don't mind if you talk to me, but to curse over the phone to my daughter is pretty darn low," he said.

Supervisor Stewart McCleaf said he never before sat in a public forum "and heard the way you people talked and to hear you call this board a bunch of clowns. As adults we should be able to agree to disagree. I'm proud to be a township supervisor."

One woman stood up twice and demanded that the supervisors show their good faith by ripping off the wall the map that showed the route of the proposed bypass.

"I really mean it. Take the map down," she said.

"Whatever happened to we, the people?" questioned Kerry Bonner, a Meadowview Avenue resident. "It's not we, the five supervisors. It's we, the people.

"We're not against progress. We don't want this bypass. We don't need development. We need industry," he said.

Wayne Fry, a former member of the Washington Township Municipal Authority, said the bypass would not have alleviated traffic problems.

"We have enough development now. I can't even back out of my driveway," Fry said. "I agree with the lady. Tear down the map."

The map was still on the wall when the meeting ended and the crowd dispersed.

Joseph Little of North Landis Avenue asked the supervisors what made them change their minds.

They referred to a survey taken by The Waynesboro Record Herald newspaper. The paper reported in Wednesday's edition that of 1,400 residents who responded, 1,362 said they opposed the bypass, while only 36 supported it.

"We did not do a very good job of public relations," Supervisor Richard Eigenbrode said. "It fact it stank. We didn't have as much information as we needed. We started off wrong from the very beginning."

One of the most controversial factors was the supervisors' announced intention to take by eminent domain the 78-acre working Shank Farm that has been in the same family for seven generations.

The property is owned by Shank family descendants, who live in Germantown, Md. They said earlier they would fight to keep the farm.

The bypass would have dissected the farm. Part of what remained was to be the site of the township's new municipal facility.

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