By: Nittany Valley Water Coalition
Nittany Valley Water Coalition members have directed their attorney to file an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the ruling by the Commonwealth Court that would allow the Toll Brothers’ Cottages Development to go forward, destroying the farmland and open space that runs along Whitehall Road at Blue Course Drive, just down the road from the State College YMCA.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition is supporting a petition by Friends of Slab Cabin asking Penn State to withdraw from the sales contract, and on June 3, launched an occupation of the site.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition is working to protect public health and safety, by protecting the State College Borough Water Authority public drinking water wells at the downstream Harter and Thomas wellfields.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition is working to protect State College rural culture, State College sense of place, and farming families, by protecting productive farmland from runoff flooding and conversion to housing, roads, and parking lots.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition is working to protect one of the most beautiful rural vistas in the region.
And Nittany Valley Water Coalition is working to protect the right to local government that acts with transparency and integrity to protect public health and safety.
All those things will soon be lost if Corporate Penn State goes through with plans to sell 44 acres of this farmland, upslope of Slab Cabin Run and the Thomas-Harter wellfields, to Toll Brothers to build a huge, luxury student apartment complex housing 1000 students and their cars.
Since 2015, almost 3,000 people have signed petitions opposing this development, spoken out at Penn State Board of Trustees meetings, written letters to the editor of the Centre Daily Times, donated more than $26,000 to support a land use appeal lawsuit against Ferguson Township and Toll Brothers, and as of one week ago, set up tents to occupy the site to bring attention to this situation.
Since the tent encampment began on June 3, hundreds of people have stopped by, including neighbors, local farmers, and alumni. All are opposed to this development. They have brought food and encouragement to stick with efforts to protect this land.
It’s been heartbreaking to meet neighbors and local farmers who stop by to say that because of Toll Brothers they are selling their homes or may no longer be able to farm due to increased flooding from runoff from this development.
Why is Nittany Valley Water Coalition concerned about risks to water supply and Slab Cabin Run from this development?
The proposed high-density housing development site sits on a karst limestone/dolomite hill, traversed by an intermittent stream, in an area pocked with existing sinkholes, less than a mile upgradient from the shallow Harter and Thomas wellfields.
In 2006, dye trace studies conducted by the State College Borough Water Authority (SCBWA) showed that dyes released in the upper Slab Cabin Run watershed, although not released from the Toll Brothers site itself, appeared downstream in the Harter and Thomas wellfield within 2-3 days.
Many earlier studies dating back to 1966 revealed a complex network of underground channels connecting surface and subsurface water flows, and were cited in a 2007 SCBWA Sourcewater Protection Report. Then in May 2013 and December 2014, CMT Technologies conducted infiltration analyses at the Toll Brothers/PSU parcel.
Taken together, these reports support the Nittany Valley Water Coalition position: Land development activity within the Zone 2 recharge area of the Harter and Thomas wellfields increases the risks of contaminating public water supplies.
Toll Brothers representatives suggest they will implement mitigations to reduce the risks. But acceptance of Toll Brothers position means trusting that Toll Brothers is accurately reporting the risks and the effectiveness of their proposed mitigation. It means trusting that local government officials are accurately representing public health and safety interests and are staffed and trained to supervise proper implementation. It means trusting that subcontractors will follow the design plans to the letter and that none of the mitigations will fail, especially with climate change bringing more frequent and more dramatic rain events. It means trusting that if the mitigation strategies do fail, the breaches will be identified quickly and that disaster response programs will be implemented rapidly, effectively and with comparable long-term operating costs. Currently Ferguson Township has no mechanisms in place to respond to violations or failures of the stormwater management system.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition does not trust Toll Brothers, which has a reputation for poor workmanship and a long list of infractions of the Clean Water Act polluting local waterways and paying large settlement fees with the EPA.
Nittany Valley Water Coalition no longer trusts local government officials, who, in 2004 at landowner Penn State’s request, removed protections placed on this land for decades, and then in 2015, gave their blessing to the Toll Brothers’ dangerous development plan and violated their own zoning ordinance.
And Nittany Valley Water Coalition does not trust Penn State officials’ two-facedness: public claims of caring about our community coupled with angry private statements – with no supporting evidence – that the project poses no risks and that they are unable to break the sales contract.