W. Penn inks water settlement
West Penn Township has inked an agreement to allow the Delaware River Basin Commission to oversee water extraction and to get money for damage to roads from truck traffic in an attempt to resolve a six-year controversy.
Supervisors said Monday the remaining signatures were received for a settlement between West Penn Township and the 1 Fort Franklin Road/Tower Springs LLC parties.
“The West Penn Township board of supervisors, David W. and Terri Lee Knoedler, and Tower Springs LLC, have entered into a settlement agreement resolving all zoning concerns surrounding the use and operation of the property located at 1 Fort Franklin Road, Andreas,” a joint statement read.
The township has withdrawn zoning enforcement notices issued in 2015 for the 1 Fort Franklin Road operation.
The agreement, finalized on April 27, was signed by the board of supervisors, David W. Knoedler, Terri Lee Knoedler and James J. Land Jr. The Knoedlers own the property where the extraction is taking place. Land works with the water extraction operation.
West Penn Township acknowledges that the Tower Springs LLC operation complies with the township ordinances in 2015 when the permit was granted, the statement said.
Tower Springs will give $7,000 annually for repairs to Blue Mountain Drive in the vicinity of 1 Fort Franklin Road. The first payment will be due within 10 days of the final approval of the DRBC application.
West Penn residents have been concerned about the water extraction operation for many years. In 2016, 30 township residents filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleging claims of negligence and nuisance in regard to water supply systems in West Penn, including the Fort Franklin property. In May 2018, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a motion to discontinue. The Knoedlers, West Penn Township and Tower Springs were third-party beneficiaries of the settlement.
The township did not receive or gain anything of monetary value.
In November 2020, the defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement against three of the original plaintiffs. The motion was granted by the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in February.
In December, the township zoning officer issued an enforcement notice to the Fort Franklin parties, as well as multiple companies and LLCs, related to alleged violations of the township’s zoning ordinance.
The township withdrew the enforcement notice against additional recipients.
“This board has spent - we’re closing in on $70,000. It’s not like we’re taking a blind eye, it’s one of the biggest issues in the township to date,” said Tony Prudenti, West Penn supervisors’ chairman.
How much water?
In 2019, Tower Springs LLC submitted an application to the Delaware River Basin Commission to withdraw up to 17.7 million gallons of groundwater per month (or 590,900 gallons per day).
As part of the April 27 settlement agreement between the West Penn Township and Fort Franklin/Tower Springs parties, the township cannot oppose the Fort Franklin/Tower Springs DRBC application, which has been pending since 2019.
“These numbers for water withdrawal, they’re amazing,” Prudenti said. “You hear these numbers and you’re shocked. Our counsel does more homework and work than anyone realizes. He has given us some others who have gone in front of the DRBC - and some are taking a million gallons per day.”
To put those numbers into perspective, some upcoming DRBC applicants from across the region requested to have anywhere between 5 million and 100 million gallons of water withdrawn per month.
Public comment during Monday’s meeting questioned what would happen if a property owners’ well is damaged, or if there is eventually no more water due to the extraction operation?
“If the Delaware River Basin Commission approves this level of withdrawal, there’s a docket, or what becomes effectively a permit, that permits them to withdraw water,” said Paul Datte, township solicitor.
“That permit is going to be subject to quite a few conditions. One of the conditions is going to be - because it’s in every permit for something like this - is if there is an impact on neighboring wells, water sources etc., and your water source is compromised by the extraction that they do, they are obligated to replace that for you. That’s going to be stated explicitly in the docket or permit that they receive from the Delaware River Basin Commission.”
Residents said the township should have just “said no” when the permit to operate was issued in 2015.
“I understand that, but he didn’t propose it to this board,” said Prudenti. “We inherited this. Different lawyer, different engineer, different board.”
Prudenti said several parties threatened the township with lawsuits over the past couple of years.
“We’re in a very tough situation, but we’re here to protect the residents of West Penn Township. We’re all in this together,” Prudenti added.
Why the DRBC?
If it’s not the DRBC overseeing this water extraction operation, it’s nobody.
The township has exhausted countless options and met with many state officials, but have gotten no help, they said.
Prudenti said no other governing bodies are willing or have authority to step in and monitor Fort Franklin/Tower Springs.
“There are some who make it seem like this board has done nothing and is doing nothing to protect the citizens of West Penn. It couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Prudenti.
Under the watch of the DRBC, Fort Franklin/Tower Springs would have to submit regular reports.
“They will be required to submit monitoring reports to the commission,” Datte said. “The commission will review and evaluate those reports. The township will request to be provided with those reports, so we can see those on an ongoing basis as well.”
The township has been drafting new ordinances to prevent this from happening again.
Datte said significant changes will be opposed on any future attempts to withdraw water in the township.
“We can only do that within the confines of what we’re permitted to do, what we have the jurisdiction and ability to do,” Datte said. “We find ourselves in a position right now of being a facilitator to make certain that the DRBC does what it’s supposed to do.”