College Township residents express support for ClearWater initiative, council still has questions

Residents shared their thoughts about ClearWater Conservancy’s Slab Cabin Run Initiative at a public hearing on Thursday night. They were overwhelmingly positive.

College Township Council, on the other hand, had a lot of questions about the initiative and also some concerns to express during its meeting that followed the hearing.

The initiative is a proactive source water protection strategy, as previously reported. ClearWater is looking to permanently conserve a little more than 300 acres of agricultural land — the Meyer Dairy property and the Everhart Farm. Both properties are in close proximity to the Harter-Thomas Wellfields, which supply the State College area with the majority of its drinking water.

The township is being asked to contribute $150,000 to ClearWater’s total fundraising goal of $2.75 million.

Dave Mortensen, of College Township, said the initiative is an “incredibly forward-looking plan.”

Urging council to approve funding for the plan, Virginia Belser, of College Township, said ClearWater has come up with an “innovative and unique” solution to a complex problem.

There are so many reasons to favor preserving this land and so many downsides if the plan fails, said Larry Hutchinson, who lives in Harris Township but owns property in College Township.

Almost two dozen residents spoke during the public hearing — the majority of whom were in support of the initiative.

Among the concerns the council outlined were that there wouldn’t be public access to the properties when they’re conserved and that development opportunities would be lost.

Councilman Anthony Fragola said it’s not just a $150,000 investment, the township is looking at a lot of lost opportunities.

The hard part for the township, looking ahead, is that this is developable land that’s being taken off the table, said chairman Rich Francke.

Carla Stilson, vice chairwoman, said the initiative is an opportunity for council to put its money where its mouth is in terms of preserving agriculture.

“Our history is agriculture,” she said, adding that no one who has lived in the area for decades regrets the undeveloped land around them.

Francke asked Kevin Abbey, land conservation manager at ClearWater who presented at the meeting and answered questions, to provide answers to council’s concerns about public access to the land, possible development, beneficial reuse water and pollution reduction project possibilities by council’s next meeting on Dec. 15.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz