Monday, January 14, 2008

Downstream

We have posted three remarkable essays over the past week, three essays republished with permission, courtesy of the Bay Journal News Service. What the writers, John Wennersten and Liza Field wrote certainly is appropriate to Pennsylvania, and in particular to the south-central area comprised of Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Cumberland, Adams, York and Franklin Counties. The Bay Journal News Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Bay Journal are concerned with the current and future condition of the Chesapeake Bay.

Why is that relevant to the people of south-central Pennsylvania? One word: downstream.

There are two major rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay with water: the Potomac, and the Susquehanna. What flows through the counties listed above flows into these two rivers, or one of the lesser subsidiaries like the Severn, the Patapsco, and the Patuxent. Other feeders on the DelMarVa Peninsula flow into the Chesapeake from the east: the Northeast, the Elk, the Chester, the Choptank, and Nanticoke, the Wicomico, and the Pocamoke.

As John Wennersten noted in his
Doing the Right Thing, “…on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore, …according to a recent study by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, as much land may be developed during the next 25 years as has been in the past 400…”. And in Vanishing Acts, he writes, “The orchard belt of the Chesapeake region, which once included hundreds of peach and apple farms in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, is being swallowed. The land is worth far more than the fruit that it produces. In Adams County, Pa., the site of the Gettysburg National Battlefield, apple farmers acknowledge they are a vanishing species, and the range of agribusinesses associated with orchards and general agriculture is disappearing as well.”

The fruit industry in Adams County, which boasts 20,000 acres of orchard up on top of South Mountain, has been scaling back operations with increasing speed over the past few years. And the biggest agribusiness townships in the county, Cumberland, and Straban, have been approving plans for massive housing tracts for the past few years, and for commercial development as well, particularly along the US 15 corridor for several miles north and south of US 30.

That intersection has been targeted for massive development in itself, with the southwest quadrant already developed with car and motorcycle dealerships, hotels, restaurants, and movie theaters. It also houses a window factory and a large office building that houses the headquarters of a local bank.

The northeast quadrant, which was to have housed a casino [which was rejected], and a large shopping mall [plans for which were just rejected with the suggestion to resubmit], already has a hotel on site up and running.

The northwest quadrant will soon house a Walmart Supercenter, at the very least, and probably much more. This area will likely extend north from US 30 to Hunterstown Road, and will likely include land on both sides of Shealer Road.

By far, the worst area will be the southwest quadrant, which already houses a Sheetz, and two strip malls, but is adding a Target store on the last vestiges of Camp Letterman Army Hospital. In addition to commercial development extending south along US 15 a short way, S&A Homes will be removing the trees between there and Hanover Road in order to put in several hundred houses.

Drive through Frederick on US 15, or Carlisle along US 11, or York and Lancaster along US 30, or through Hanover along PA 94. That is what the Gettysburg area will look like in a few short years. Current plans call for enough housing to literally double the population of rural Adams County over five to ten years.

Now Gettysburg College has gotten into the act, having its students of public planning redo a proposed 500 house development near Biglerville in northern Adams County into a proposed 500 home development, complete with green space trails, and community and commercial space!

So the real question is, when is it enough? Where does one draw a line on development? In
Doing the Right Thing, Wennersten talks about the developer’s social responsibility. Is there a developer in Adams County that can honestly say he turned down a lucrative development plan because sprawl was getting out of hand? …because Adams was running out of green space? …because Adams should not become a bedroom community for people who can’t afford housing in Washington D.C.? …because there simply is not enough water available in Adams County?

In
Gift of Water, gift of life, Liza Field wrote about the creeks – about how esthetically wonderful they used to be. She also wrote: Drought, for all its desolation, does bring an offering: the awareness that money cannot buy water. Indeed, it reminds us that money comes from water. Not vice versa…This is news in the Eastern United States, where we've long taken water for granted, able to squander or impair it freely to benefit "the economy." I can't remember a single local land-use decision, in the past two decades, that placed water quality above "economic growth." Globally, meanwhile, the United States dallies in answering the call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions-though we know global warming is causing droughts-because climate protection would "hurt the U.S. economy."

We would add “water quantity” to Ms. Field’s “water quality”.

Water is a commodity that we all absolutely must pay very close attention to now. Water is not, as we think, infinite, it is finite. Water is, along with air, one of the most basic and necessary ingredients to all life on Earth. Without water, there can be no life. All things come alive with the presence of water.

With development, two things happen to water: first, the demand on the source is greatly and suddenly increased; and second, the outflow from that development, both wastewater and runoff carry an increased cargo of toxins and biohazards not only into our own ground supply, but also downstream. Who among you does not quest for the perfect Maryland Blue Crab Cake, or Maryland Blue Crab Soup? Who does not enjoy eating bushels of crabs every summer, and fresh Chesapeake Bay Oysters? Yet the outflow from development in southcentral Pennsylvania continually and increasingly [as development increases], poisons the very place where these unique delicacies come from – the oyster beds and crab shallows of the Chesapeake Bay.

Granted, the destruction of the shell fisheries in the Bay is not solely the responsibility of the developers upstream. Farmers and communities who use pesticides do a great deal of damage to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. We saw what the rampant use of DDT did to the population of Bald Eagles in the area decades ago. They are only recently recovered from the endangered species list, upgraded recently to threatened status.

People create waste. Where is it going to go? Solid waste, for example, is trucked from New York City all the way to huge farms in western Lancaster County where the farmers no longer grow things, they plant solid waste, turning their fertile fields to land fills. That waste carries with it some moisture of its own, which trickles down through the earth into the water table, and from there into the streams and tributaries of the Susquehanna River, the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, the earth filters the liquid. For a while, then like any filter, it becomes simply something the liquid passes completely through…like the old septic system drain fields, no longer functional in terms of cleansing the water.

Liquid waste enters the ecosystem via outflow, which is treated by municipalities, or by the earth in small home-systems. Liquid also enters the ecosystem via runoff. Herein lies the greatest danger. Toxins from many sources are carried directly into the ecosystem complete with their chemical cocktails picked up along the way, during a rain storm, or perhaps during the spring melt. Car washes, gas stations, trucking terminals, highways, all are places of chemical spills, and contamination. Those toxins then get washed away during a summer thunderstorm. Everyone loves the look and sparkle after a summer storm, how it cleanses the air, and the ground. But those toxins did not just disappear. They went somewhere. Into the ground, and over it, into the water supply, and into the streams. The runoff in one area goes to one small brook, which is one of ten that feed one creek, which is one of five that feeds one river, which is one of twenty that empty into the Chesapeake Bay. Do the math.

It is not something one can turn off. Once development occurs, this continues, The more development that occurs, the amount of toxins entering the system multiplies. Humans are users, consumers, and therefore, waste makers. From the dawn of man we have been squatting in streams to relieve ourselves of our own waste, and sending it downstream to whichever poor creatures might be attempting to live with the aid of that water source.

It cannot be turned off except in one way. Stop development. Measures such as townships demanding a certain percentage of every development be maintained as green space are defeatist. They are a series of diminishing returns away from no green space at all.

The populace must become actively involved in what happens to their area. In Pennsylvania, developers and their investors have become so politically powerful that the state now controls what the townships and municipalities can and cannot do in their own areas. And the townships and municipalities are so heavily controlled by those same developers and investors, that they willingly go along with any plan for development, and if it is not up to snuff with the local ordinances, well, reject it, and have the developer re-submit it.

State, county and local governments that are fully developer friendly have been elected to office by an unwitting public for over half a century. And now Adams County, for example, faces the construction of a propose 20,000 new homes over the next 5-10 years. Developments are currently approved or under construction for as many as 2,000 homes in a development.

In order to stop development, or at least curtail it drastically from its current rate, new, eco-friendly township, municipal, and statewide officials must be elected. The current rate of eco-destruction occurring in Adams County will result in a disaster of epic proportions unless it is halted soon. The disaster will be one of economic, and ecological and social scope, and will affect every citizen in the county, and those downstream from it.

The shortsighted elected officials who so easily approve mega-developments see increased tax revenues flowing in. What they ignore is the costs of doing municipal business increasing at twice the rate of revenues. Infrastructure, and municipal services costs will rise to exorbitant rates. What looks like a nice orderly plan on County maps will eventually lead to overcrowding. People will not be able to afford their taxes, and those taxes will not support the amount of services their local and state government are responsible for providing. Crime will skyrocket, as will bankruptcies, divorce, and the inevitable growth of the counter culture.

Lest you think this is over the top, note two news stories from tonight’s cable news: garbage riots in the city of Naples, Italy, where the city is drowning in its own garbage as it lies in the streets uncollected, and the processing of sewage water into clean drinking water for Orange County, California. Orange County’s water supply, the Colorado River, is in a drought condition. These are but two examples of what will be the outcome of the development of the Adams County area.

Citizens of the Mid-Atlantic area should be alarmed -- very alarmed at what is happening around them. If they care for their children they should be scared to death at the degree to which the area upstream is being developed, and its projected effect on those who live downstream in addition to the effect it will have on themselves.

Our civic leaders have abandoned us. Business is more important than history, and profit more important than the culture that supports it, and that will eventually die from it, finally, when there is no more profit to be had. The land, and the water are not a bottomless pot of gold. Our civic leaders have failed us. Where are the crusading newspaper editors? Where are the investigative reporters? The local Fourth Estate members have, in their absences, defaulted on their role as protector of the people. The newspapers in the Adams County area are too consumed with political motivations to have any thoughts for the welfare of the area, for the very culture they are supposedly such an integral part of, that they have long since abandoned any pretense at caring what happens around them, let alone downstream. Being good to business is the principle motivators for the news organs in the area. And being involved directly with the elected officials removes them from their societal roles. They are no longer the guardians of the culture, they are part and parcel of the problem, not the solution.

What we write here will not stop the Walmarts, the Targets, nor the 20,000 homes from being built. But it might just provide enough advanced warning for those who plan to stay to perhaps band together somehow and take matters in hand, wrest power from the monied interests and stop the trend.

We have made the point on numerous occasions in the past few years here, that two industries keep a kind of economic stasis here in Adams County. But now, the Fruit industry is withering on the vine, and the tourist industry is starting to stay away. Why? Because development is robbing the area of its natural resources, natural splendor, and its future.

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