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Project near Pa. wetlands irks residents

July 13, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Washington Township residents and a team proposing 18 single-family houses on Pennersville Road in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., squared off Wednesday over wetlands on the Blue Oak development, which was called "basically an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen" by a township supervisor.

Foundations are "going to shift because of freezing and thawing. When we get a decent winter, they're going to have waterfront property," Supervisor Chris Firme said just before his "environmental catastrophe" comment that elicited applause from many of the 30 residents at a workshop meeting.

The neighboring property owners contended the 6.31-acre property, zoned low-density residential, should be considered wetlands like the adjacent Happel's Meadows Wetland Preserve maintained by the township. The proposal from developer Kylea and Associates Inc. of Mercersburg, Pa., has won conditional approval from the township planning commission.

Three parcels of the property, the largest at 1.15 acres, could be conveyed to the township to add to Happel's Meadow, said James Maun of surveying firm William A. Brindle Associates Inc. of Chambersburg, Pa. The most significant impact on wetlands would then come from a bridge, he said.

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"The impact design-wise we're proposing is one crossing on wetlands," Maun said.

That bridge would be thoroughly reviewed and permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which would also have control over construction vehicles accessing the site, Maun said. The bridge would likely be a concrete span, he said after the meeting.

The wetland delineation came from studies on the site's soils, vegetation and hydrology, according to remarks from engineers, surveyors and a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The difference between wetlands and grounds that are frequently wet is that wetlands retain water for an entire season, said Frank Plewa, representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He approved the wetlands report made by Skelly & Loy Inc. of Hagerstown.

"There is an extreme amount of fluctuation in that water level. I've seen this over 30 years," said Thomas Halligan, of 12838 Pennersville Road.

The wetlands are not upheld by runoff but probably groundwater, Plewa said.

"We (Pennsylvania) don't have wetlands that are sustained by flooding," he said.

"Happel's Meadow is a mystery of how it even works. You really have a crazy, mysterious area, so you have to put a lot of thought into it," said Paul McClain, a member of the family who originally owned the land now preserved.

Plewa commended the developer for having the site surveyed for wetlands before laying out the lots, saying developers often form a plot plan and then have to make adjustments after further assessment.

Utilities would be installed by boring outside of wetlands and then tunneling below the wetlands, Maun said. Spanning and boring are regulated by the DEP, Plewa said.

Deeds will dictate which houses are allowed to have basements in order to protect homeowners from flooding and the wetlands themselves, developer Thomas Mongold said.

"They're going to have deed restrictions to maintain the character of the property," he said.

Despite a developer's intentions, wetland preservation is also largely dependent on residents' responsibility, neighbors said.

"These wetlands usually get trashed by the people who move into the lots," Plewa cautioned. He said officials have been encouraging townships to put wetlands into homeowners associations or to make them the responsibility of a single property owner who can be held accountable.

The preliminary plans are before the township supervisors for their review and possible approval.

Supervisor John Gorman said he is looking forward to receiving feedback from DEP.

"No one can tell me that (Blue Oak) won't affect Happel's Meadow in a negative way. It's not a good place for a development. We all intuitively know that," Gorman said.

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