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Ferguson Township stormwater ordinance moves forward

The long-discussed, repeatedly amended Ferguson Township stormwater ordinance has been approved for public hearing, though a hearing date hasn’t been set yet.

Supervisors unanimously approved the ordinance to be advertised for public hearing Monday, however, last-minute amendments require some additional rewriting, pushing the hearing to a date to be determined.

The ordinance remained unchanged from March 23, township Manager Mark Kunkle said Monday. Since that time, a number of questions had been brought forward asking if the township had the ability to regulate blasting.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, he said, a municipality does have the ability to determine where blasting can occur. Once the determination has been made, the application process, blasting plan approval and all things public safety fall under DEP regulations.

“If the board wanted to, it could prohibit blasting as part of the land use in particular areas,” Kunkle said. “DEP would honor that.”

According to the ordinance, “blasting should be used as a last resort method of rock excavation.” If a contractor wished to blast, he or she would have to provide the township and water provider information supporting the use of blasting as well as permits.

Supervisor Laura Dinnini proposed an amendment prohibiting blasting as a form of excavation within the water quality sensitive districts. Those districts are defined in the ordinance as “areas that, if developed, have the potential to cause catastrophic loss to a Water Authority well field.”

Township staff established that if a restriction in blasting were added to the stormwater ordinance, there would be no appeal process. However, if the restriction were added to a zoning and land use ordinance, such as the proposed source water protection area, a appeal would be possible.

As a way to bridge the stormwater and the source water, Public Works Director David Modricker said, the board could add the restriction to the stormwater ordinance now; then, when the source water plan was completed, the stormwater ordinance could be changed back.

John Sepp, of PennTerra Engineering, advised the board not to restrict blasting before hearing more information on the types of blasting from different experts.

“There is a lot of information on the types of blasting you need to learn about prior to putting in a prohibition,” he said. “You could be costing a family thousands to excavate a basement.”

The amendment failed a 2-2 board vote. Supervisor Janet Whitaker was not in attendance.

Vice Chairman Peter Buckland proposed a second amendment increasing the distance of infiltration facilities from 25 feet to 50 feet from any critical geological features, saying he wanted to be cautious, and as a rule of thumb, double the distance could double the protection.

Sepp again warned the board of changing a distance without understanding the nuances of the situation. Making restrictions too far could render a lot useless when a feature may not be a direct conduit to an aquifer.

Buckland countered Sepp’s argument saying regulations can sometimes drive innovation. This could provide engineers with a new way to tackle a problem.

The amendment passed unanimously.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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