A proposed housing development in Ferguson Township has caused a flood of concerns about the safety of the area’s drinking water.
The Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors is currently considering whether to give the go ahead on a new Toll Brothers housing complex called the Cottages at State College, but a wave of public opposition appears be rising.
An online petition asking the board to nix the development has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.
The proposed development would sit near the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive, only a few thousand feet uphill from a recharge area for two wells that provide the majority of the State College area’s drinking water.
Some residents are concerned that runoff from the development would have no where to go but into the wells, polluting the area’s drinking supply.
“There are approximately 1,000 parking spaces planed for this development, and every one of those cars will leak fluids that will be washed downhill,” says Ferguson Township resident Laura Dininni.
And it’s not just oil Dininni’s worried about. She’s concerned that building the development would remove trees and other natural vegetation that currently soaks up runoff. She also wonders if the construction could harm the underground geology that allows water to enter the wells.
John Lichman, executive director of the State College Borough Water Authority, says the authority has been reviewing the plans in collaboration with Toll Brothers and township staff for about a year.
While he admits its possible the development could lead to more contamination, Lichman also says its important to have a sense of perspective on the issue.
“The recharge area is 16 square miles, and the area this development would encompass is 1/49th of that total recharge area,” Lichman says. “Yes, there are concerns, but I’m just as concerned about the other 48 parts.”
Lichman says that well water – which he estimates is about 90 percent of the area’s drinking water – is always subject to a certain amount of unavoidable contamination.
For instance, Lichman says the Slab Cabin Run creek runs right through the same recharge area, and that creek is subject to runoff “from hundreds and hundreds” of roads, homes and parking lots. Those kinds of concerns are why the water authority built a water treatment plant two decades ago, he says.
Lichman adds that there are additional possibilities to keep the recharge area safe outside of not building the development. Some possibilities include rechanneling runoff from the development elsewhere and installing filtering devices outside of the parking lot.
“If everything goes as planned and designed, under normal operating conditions I don’t see any appreciable impact from this development,” Lichman says.
The Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors released a letter to township residents this week signed by four of it’s five members in an attempt to address concerns about water safety.
The letter states the board has worked closely with Toll Brothers’ engineers and water authority staff for more than a year, incorporating suggestions from the authority to keep the wells clean. The letter also points out that the current zoning on the land in question actually allows bigger housing developments than the one planned.
“The township is committed to clean water,” the letter reads. “As customers of the water authority, we all drink the water from these wells and other water sources in the water authority system.”
Toll Brothers representatives, Ferguson Township manager Mark Kunkle and board of supervisors chairman Richard Mascolo did not immediately return requests for comment.