Water and Farmland Protection Update

TOLL BROTHERS IDENTIFIES ALTERNATIVE SITES

NVWC Press Release

Nittany Valley Water Coalition (NVWC) held a follow-up meeting with Charles Elliott of Toll Brothers developers on Wednesday, August 16 to discuss Toll Brothers’ recent review of alternative State College sites for student housing.

On August 2, NVWC presented Toll Brothers with detailed information about PSU lands suitable for building closer to campus.

NVWC has been leading a community effort to pressure Penn State, the current landowner, and Toll Brothers to relocate a planned development on Whitehall Road to a site that does not risk local water safety. The current 44 acre site is located uphill from the Thomas-Harter wells.

Elliott and his team have now ranked several PSU properties with respect to zoning and infrastructure and identified several as viable alternatives if township officials and PSU officials will facilitate a “land swap” and any needed approvals. The top ranked site is located on West College Avenue in front of the Blue Course golf property. Elliott stated that while further corporate economic and structural viability assessments are needed, the alternative site was attractive for its proximity to campus and downtown amenities.

Concerned citizens have occupied the Whitehall Road site continuously for 75 days and will continue community efforts to stop the Whitehall development.

Incoming PSU students and their families will be informed of the issue with a water and flyer distribution on Saturday, August 19.

Meanwhile, a citizen appeal is pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

For additional information, contact Terry Melton, terrymelton321@gmail.com, 814-883-8154, or visit nittanyvalleywatercoalition.org

KEY MEETING AT WATER AUTHORITY – 4 p.m. TODAY

From Save State College’s Water Supply

Come ask the SCBWA board today – Thursday, August 17, 4 p.m. at 1201 East Branch Road – why they said in their July 31 public statement that the Tolls have a no blasting policy for their development plan.

That is incorrect.

There IS BLASTING permitted in the development plan for our watershed.

Why would the board issue a public statement with such a massive oversight?

The Water Authority missed this but the citizens did not.

Blasting is THE MAJOR THREAT during construction phase.

We can’t get sloppy now.

While seeming quite promising for a land swap, the negotiations may still fall through.

Come to the water authority board meeting. Let them know we’re watching even when they aren’t.

AUGUST 19 – PSU MOVE-IN DAY ACTION

From NVWC Organizer David Hughes

This weekend on Saturday August 19, between 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. we will be handing out water and information for parents and new students/current students.

We had a great day August 16 and made significant progress with Toll Brothers.

But we really need to keep the pressure on PSU and this weekend is a great opportunity to share information.

Please do join if you can and let me know if you will so we can organize. We will have some students join from the Young Dems.

To volunteer – contact David Hughes at davidpeterhughes@gmail.com

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Water and Farmland Protection Update

Water and Farmland Protection Fight Updates

There’s been quite a lot of activity this summer around the proposed luxury student housing development atop Penn State-owned land upslope and proximal to the State College Borough Water Authority Harter-Thomas wells.

Readers interested in catching up can visit the Nittany Valley Water Coalition Facebook page, the Save State College Water Supply Facebook page, the NVWC website, and/or the following Change.org petition updates:

Prioritizing Public Infrastructure Spending

The bigger picture is the need for a regional watershed management plan that addresses sourcewater protection, sewage treatment and discharge, stormwater discharge, and business models for regional public water/sewer, that include Penn State University as a full participant, not exempt (as it is now) from many of the regulations and agreements currently binding other public entities such as the State College Borough Water Authority, the University Area Joint Authority, and the municipal governments of the Centre Region.

One piece of that bigger picture that’s playing out this summer is Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum review of a Beneficial Reuse Special Study under Act 537 (the state law governing sewage systems).

The special study – proposing to extend the existing beneficial reuse system to Mountainview Country Club and Tussey Mountain Ski Area – was presented to the General Forum at the June meeting, starting a 60-day public comment period that will conclude on August 26.

6.26.17 UAJA Draft Special Study Re Beneficial Reuse

I submitted a public comment, emphasizing my preference that public funds be expended on three higher community priorities before being spent to extend the beneficial reuse program, as follows:

  1. to establish strong regional sourcewater protection protocols that hold Penn State to the same standards as other local public entities;
  2. to establish a clear regional watershed management plan that holds Penn State to the same standards as other local public entities; and
  3. to analyze current (failing) business models so as develop new business models for public water and sewer systems that do not depend on constant population growth and constant intensification of land use.

7.29.17 KW Public Comment Re Beneficial Reuse Special Study

Readers interested in submitting public comment can email to Senior Planner Mark Boeckel – mboeckel@crcog.net.

Volumetric Billing

Meanwhile, for the last 13 years or so, Tom Songer II and other local developers have been asking UAJA’s board to revise the rate structure to a volumetric billing system.

This summer, the group launched a petition urging the COG General Forum to direct the UAJA to revise the rate structure (details available at the petition site).

Songer writes:

“…for more than 13 years my associates and I have tried unsuccessfully to get UAJA to bill all customers for sewer service based on water meter readings in the same manner that State College Borough has used for more than 40 years.

At this time, we are asking you to consider signing our online petition which can be found at: www.UAJAPetition.com

The purpose of the Petition is to try to get the Centre Region COG to mandate in the update to the ACT 537 Regional Sewer Plan that UAJA should bill all customers for sewer service based on water meter readings which will incentivize customers to conserve water and generate less sewage which will make our water and sewer systems more sustainable while lowering our carbon footprint…”

The issue will be discussed at the COG Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, August 22 at 12:15 PM and at the COG General Forum meeting at 7 PM on Monday, August 28, 2017 at the COG Building at 2643 Gateway Drive

Meanwhile, over in Ferguson Township…

Reporting on the Monday, August 7 supervisors meeting, Laura Dinnini wrote that “nearing midnight” Dininni responded to a report filed by Steve Jackson (the Ferguson Township liaison to the State College Borough Water Authority) on the topic of explosive blasting of the bedrock at the Penn State/Toll Brothers development site.

Dininni highlighted the contradiction between a recent SCBWA public statement that blasting had been eliminated from the construction plan, and the fact that in the approved land development plan, blasting is permitted. Although Dininni did not get support from her supervisor colleagues to submit a public letter to the SCBWA board highlighting the contradiction, Supervisor Peter Buckland agreed to reach out to SCBWA board members and executives privately to seek clarification.

SCBWA’s next public meeting is August 17 at 4 p.m. at 1201 West Branch Road.

Dininni also reported that she introduced a discussion about Penn State representation within the Centre Region Council of Governments structure.

Corporate Penn State, although not a municipality, has appointed (not elected) voting and non-voting members on several key committees, including the Centre Region Planning Commission, the COG Transportation and Land Use Committee, and the COG Parks Capital Committee.

Dininni’s supervisor colleagues supported her, voting to include the issue as an official Ferguson Township municipal comment on the 2018 COG Program Plan, and therefore subject to public discussion at the August 28 General Forum meeting.

In two other positive steps, Dininni introduced discussion on Penn State’s private ownership of Millbrook Marsh Nature Center (soon to be seeking significant public taxpayer funding) and on the need for the Centre Region Planning Agency to conduct annual assessments of the value of corporate Penn State’s tax-exempt landholdings within the region’s municipalities, to be used for future negotiations of the “fee-in-lieu” agreements.

Both of those measures also received support from Dininni’s colleagues.

For reference, according to State College Finance Department information, the assessed value of Penn State’s property within the Borough in 2015 was about $262.9 million.

If the property were taxable, the resulting 2015 real estate tax payment to the Borough would have been approximately $3.8 million.

However, because corporate Penn State is currently classified as a public nonprofit organization for tax purposes, the property is tax-exempt.

Instead, the University and the surrounding municipalities negotiate an annual “fee-in-lieu” of taxes. For State College, Penn State’s annual contribution to public coffers is about $600,000, giving the university a $3.2 million per year tax break. Negotiations are currently scheduled for every 20 years, with the next negotiation round not scheduled until roughly 2026.

Sometime I hope to find time to make a spreadsheet of the many, many ways the Janus of corporate Penn State – with its annual operating budget of about $5.7 billion – gains financially from its circumstance-dependent “public” and “private” statuses, internalizing profits and externalizing costs and hiding all the shell-gaming of revenue and expenses from the public thanks to the University’s exemption from the Right to Know Law.

The point being: the public subsidizes Penn State far beyond the $318 million in direct state appropriations anticipated for 2017-2018, with none of the oversight power that should accompany public funding for public institutions.

2016 PSU IRS Filings

PSU Audit KW Markup

The exploitation of public resources for private University gain is not unique to Penn State, of course. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an excellent report on the trend, When Universities Swallow Cities. It’s behind a pay wall, but worth a read if you can get hold of a copy.

Public patience is wearing thin.

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PCO FarmFest 2017

It’s that time of year again.  Pennsylvania Certified Organic will be hosting FarmFest 2017 this Friday and Saturday, July 28 – 29 at the Grange Fair Grounds in Centre Hall, PA.  This is a great event that includes local food and craft vendors, educational programming, family activities, and live entertainment.  FarmFest is free (It’s so much fun that it shouldn’t be, but it is).  It runs from 9:30 am – 10:30 pm on Friday and 9 am – 8 pm on Saturday.  For more details and a schedule of activities, visit: farmfest.paorganic.org.

 

A few highlights to whet your appetite:

  • Expert talks on beekeeping, home brewing, hydroponics, vermicomposting, and more.

 

  • Tom Beddard, PCO’s founding president, will present “20 Years of Organic Farming: Reflecting on the Past to Create Our Future.”

 

  • Handcrafted, local and organic foods make up the Food Court.

 

  • Wool Village with items for sale and  demonstrations each day.

 

  • Family Arena with face-painting, farm animals, hayrides, games, and more.

 

  • Homemade & Homegrown Market with maple products, organic produce, hand-crafted jewelry, and other locally produced goods.
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Bailiwick News – June 13, 2017 and Daily Updates from the Occupation

6.13.17 Bailiwick News – The battle for the Slab Cabin Run watershed and the political and ecological future of the Centre Region.  Part 10B and the final installment of a 10-part series on water and farmland protection in the Slab Cabin watershed.

Links to daily updates, posted at Nittany Valley Water Coalition’s website.

 

 

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Battle for Slab Cabin Run – Updates & Friends of Slab Cabin Social Tonight

6.6.17 Bailiwick News – The battle for the Slab Cabin Run watershed and the ecological and political future of the Centre Region community. Part 10A of a 10-part series. Part 10B – critical analysis – forthcoming. Prior installments.


NEW WEBSITE

Nittany Valley Water Coalition has a new website, set up by Ian Boswell, in addition to the NVWC Facebook page.

NEW VIDEO

There’s a new video on the issues, made by Andy McKinnon and Ben Andrew:

ONLINE PETITION

There is also an online petition to sign, created by Lori Bedell of Friends of Slab Cabin Run: “Demand that Penn State act as a responsible steward to our community’s water.”

YARD SIGNS

Yard signs have been delivered and are available for pickup or delivery. Suggested donation: $6 per sign (to cover the purchase costs). Text David Hughes at 814-777-7366 to coordinate pickup at site or home delivery.

MORE INFORMATION

Open Letter and Informational Flier:


WATT LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Sent to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg newspapers June 1:

For Centre County residents, the death of Timothy Piazza is only the most recent example of a pattern of corporate Penn State’s community abuse.

In 2011, we learned that Penn State administrators, enabled by the Board of Trustees, had covered up the serial rape of young boys by Jerry Sandusky.

In 2013, State College residents fought a fierce battle against Penn State and Columbia Gas, over Penn State’s plan to install a 12” diameter, high-pressure natural gas transmission line through a residential neighborhood, solely to serve the West Campus Steam Plant. Penn State trustees only backed down after citizen outrage and a lawsuit combined with air quality compliance deadlines, which caused the trustees to move the route of the proposed pipeline onto campus, where it now threatens the lives of thousands of Penn State students, faculty and staff.

In 2015, Centre Region residents were forced to mobilize for our own public safety against another Penn State threat, when we learned that Penn State had engaged in a sweetheart land deal with Toll Brothers developers to build hundreds of luxury student housing units right on top of the groundwater recharge area for our public drinking water supplies.

We have no large lakes, reservoirs or rivers in Centre County. If our groundwater is contaminated, we’re screwed. And Toll Brothers has a horrible record of non-compliance with Clean Water Act regulations.

So citizens took Toll Brothers and the enabling Ferguson Township municipal board to court. Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine ruled in our favor in July 2016, finding that the developers, in collusion with the supervisors, attempted an unlawful “end run” around local zoning ordinances. The Commonwealth Court reversed Grine on a procedural technicality. Our case is now on the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and we’re directly petitioning the trustees to break the sales agreement.

This spring, we learned that corporate Penn State’s continued promotion of an institutional culture of alcohol abuse, and negligence in supervising sanctioned and unsanctioned fraternities and sororities, again led to the death of an undergraduate student. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

It’s leadership behavior driven by the same private profit-driven greed that drove the Sandusky cover-up, the Columbia Gas pipeline plan, and the Toll Brothers water threat, hidden behind the slipping disguise of a public land grant university.

Penn State’s administrators, enabled by a complacent, out-of-touch Board of Trustees and a weak state legislature that can’t even be bothered to bring the state-related universities under the provisions of the Right to Know Law, continue to demonstrate a pattern of callous disregard for the externalized human and social costs of their internal decisions.

The recent and not-so-recent pious handwringing by Penn State’s purported leaders is unlikely to lead to any constructive change. It can’t. There are too many incentives for business as usual, and none for genuine reform.

Katherine Watt, State College PA, PSU Class of 1996.


JUNE 3, 2017 – THE OCCUPATION BEGINS

 


JUNE 10, 2017 – OCCUPATION IS ONE WEEK OLD

June 10, 2017 Update from Kelli Hoover of Nittany Valley Water Coalition:

Thanks to all who came out to the encampment June 9 for our meeting of the Nittany Valley Water Coalition. There were about 25 people there and the energy was contagious. Lots of new faces and people are really stepping up to fight the Toll Brothers development, i.e., Penn State.

We had people step up to coordinate various activities and here is the information about who to email to offer your help on a specific task.

Item #1: Your presence at the occupation; please stop by the occupation on West Whitehall near Blue Course Dr. whenever you can. There is parking right across the street at High Point Park. Coordinator: Joe Cusumano at jpcusumano@gmail.com. Even if you can only stop by for 15 minutes a few days a week, please let Joe know because he is trying to ensure there is always someone there, especially if you can camp out there overnight. There are plenty of tents.

Item #2: “No Tolls” signs need to get out in people’s yards. David Hughes has them in his garage and can be reached at: davidpeterhughes@gmail.com, or text his cell: 814-777-7366. We have about 700 still to go out. We are asking for a $6 donation for each sign, BUT the most important thing is to get them out, so give them to people who have a yard to put them whether or not they want to give a donation. You can also ask for someone’s address if they aren’t in a position to take a sign at that moment and we have a list of people who will drop them off.

Item #3: Write a letter to the editor of the Centre Daily Times and/or to the Board of Trustees of PSU. This is being coordinated by Erin at etreanore@gmail.com.

Item #4: Post on social media. Any Facebook pages you belong to or have of your own, post about why you oppose the Toll Brothers development. Also post on our FB page at https://www.facebook.com/Nittany-Valley-Water-Coalition-411453045714666/. Like our page; the more hits the better.

Also, Terry Melton is using Twitter and you can follow her at: @twm107

Or tweet yourself about occupation at the Toll Brothers site to stop development. Protect Slab Cabin Run!

Item #5: Press contact. There have been numerous press reps stop by the site and we have sent out several press releases. If you have an item that you think should go to the press, let me know. Press coordinator: Kelli Hoover kxhoover2015@gmail.com

Item #6: Donations to cover legal fees for the appeal to the Supreme Court and signs. If you want to make a donation, you can stop at the site or send a check to: CommunityWise at PO Box 1256, State College PA 16804.

What a great community we have. If only Penn State felt that we deserved better treatment.


Glowstick “fire” from first night at the site, Saturday June 3.

JUNE 11, 2017 – FRIENDS OF SLAB CABIN SOCIAL AT THE SITE

Come on down to the Nittany Valley Water Coalition encampment at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 11 to share dinner, conversation, and solidarity with the dedicated folks occupying this land to keep the Toll Brothers away from it. Wave a sign if you like – or pick one up for a donation if you haven’t already done so – or boost the cause just by being there. Let’s help to keep up morale and show Penn State’s decision-makers that we’re in this for the long haul!

The encampment is next to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Whitehall Road. Parking is available across the street at High Point Park.

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Petition to Penn State

Sign the petition.

The housing development corporation, Toll Brothers, is planning a 264-unit development covering 32 acres at the intersection of West Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive.

Nothing is more fundamental to the well-being of a community than its water and this project poses a serious threat to the Harter-Thomas Wellfields, which supplies State College with the majority of its drinking water. In addition to risks that come simply due to the planned location fo the project, the Toll Brothers, one of the largest homebuilding corporations in the nation, has an alarming record of Clean Water Act violations for which they did not pay fines, but a settlement. For over 300 EPA violations of the Clean Water Act, Toll Brothers paid about $720,000. This corporation has a reputation for not following agreed-upon stormwater management plans. Paying off the EPA on settlements is just the cost of doing business for them. Relative to the size of this corporation, the risk of fines has not proven to be a deterrent from reckless, destructive practices.

Penn State is responsible for selling this land for development. To continue to be a faithful partner in the preservation of health and quality of life afforded to the residents of State College–both permanent and student– we urge President Barron, David Gray, and the Board of Trustees to reconsider their decision to sell this land for development. Penn State prides itself on sustainability, a principle hardly served by threatening drinking water.

We ask that Penn State partner with the community to think creatively about setting an example for responsible environmental stewardship. Put a halt to the sale. Talk to the community. Let’s move forward responsibly, together.

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Water, Farmland & Accountable Local Government Protection – May Recap

Ahead of Monday night’s COG General Forum meeting, starting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 22 at the COG building (2643 Gateway Drive) here’s a recap of the last month or so of activity on the proposed Whitehall Road Regional Park project, in the form of a chronological list of posts.

April 20, 2017 – Note sent to COG legislators, regarding the design selection by the ad hoc committee and projected cost overruns, ahead of April 24, 2017 General Forum meeting, at which the legislators were presented with yet another “information-only” report – the latest “information-only,” non-deliberative General Forum agenda item in a series dating back to September 2016.

May 2, 2017 – Citizen Action Alert: Whitehall Road Regional Park Finance Votes Coming Up in May, regarding the schedule of meetings; some background information on design and funding decisions; adverse auditor opinions on Parks Authority financial reports; pay-to-play proposals to obtain private funding for park amenities in exchange for priority use; legal principles regarding taxing authority as related to expiring municipal guarantees as collateral for the loan, along with email contact info for General Forum legislators. 5.2.17 Watt Email to COG Auditors (no response received); 5.2.17 KW Email to COG Legislators.

May 11, 2017 – Water, Farmland & Accountable Local Government Protection Update – May 11, 2017 – Report on the joint meeting of the COG Finance Committee, COG Parks Capital Committee and Centre Region Parks & Recreation Authority, including further analysis of the legal principles regarding taxing authority as related to expiring municipal guarantees as collateral for the loan.

May 16, 2017 – Water, Farmland & Accountable Local Government Protection Update – May 16, 2017 – Report on Notice of Intent to Sue, delivered to State College Borough Council on Monday, May 15, in direct response to the obvious intent of the COG committee leadership and administrators to circumvent deliberative legislative procedures and usurp General Forum legislative authority regarding taxation related to expiring municipal guarantees as collateral for the loan, for the gain of the Parks Authority and private interest groups. 5.15.17 KW Notice of Intent to Sue

May 17, 2017 – Water, Farmland and Accountable Local Government Protection Update – May 17 – Report on Commonwealth Court decision in Nittany Valley Water Coalition v. Toll Brothers, handed down May 17; agenda-setting discussion at COG Executive Committee; and the doctrine of non-delegation as it relates to General Forum authority regarding taxation related to expiring municipal guarantees as collateral for the loan, for the gain of the Parks Authority and private interest groups.

Other useful resources:

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