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Charles Meredith: A history of turbulent years

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Good morning. It came as a surprise when former Bucks County Commissioner Andy Warren told me that he was writing a book about the history of the commissioners in the 1960s and 70s. He called me because I’m the oldest living commissioner. (It’s my accelerating antiquity.) I gave my version of political history to Andy.

The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas appointed me in the summer of 1966 when I was just 31. I ran successfully for a four-year term in 1967 and left office in January 1972. My father had died suddenly in 1969 so I had to make a choice … continue in government as a commissioner or follow my father and grandfather as publisher at the Quakertown Free Press. I chose the newspaper.

Andy has enlisted Hal Marcovitz, a retired Morning Call reporter and columnist, to assist him on the project (research and writing). Andy and Hal spent a few hours with me several weeks ago.

We talked about Bucks County Community College and its incredible success. It was launched in 1964. Who would have thought that 50 years later, more than 35,000 have graduated from BCCC?

What’s more, the college has added two additional campuses, one in Bristol and the other in Perkasie.

BCCC began as a two-year public institution and offers more than 90 programs of study, enabling students to transfer to a four-year institution, graduate with a two-year associates degree or earn a professional certificate. BCCC serves more than 9,000 credit-seeking students and more than 70,000 students in noncredit programs each year.

In 2014, at its commencement program celebrating its 50th year, the college asked me to speak and presented me with an honorary degree, “Doctor of Public Service.” Walter Farley, a fellow county commissioner, was living but had health problems. Thinking back on that ceremony, I should have suggested that the college honor Walter rather than me. After all, he was one of the original commissioners who voted to establish BCCC.

Andy Warren asked me about the 1960s and ‘70s. The major project was the creation of the Neshaminy Water Resources (NWRA). It became controversial well after I left office. The basic concept was to sell water to the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) and pay for the land acquisition, allowing PECO to cool its nuclear towers at Limerick, just south of Pottstown.

We commissioners were trying to solve three problems: (1) harness the annual flooding of the Neshaminy Creek which caused death and destruction, (2) create water supply for the municipalities in Central Bucks and Central Montgomery counties, and (3) expand the Bucks County parks.

The sale of water to PECO would finance the ambitious project. And it did although many environmentalists thought transferring water from the Delaware River and diverting it to the Schuylkill River would cause the world to stop spinning. Building the famous “Pump” on the Delaware River at Point Pleasant was the key component.

This is what Hal Marcovitz wrote 17 years ago: “On Jan. 10, 1983, months of bickering, posturing and planning came to an abrupt boil when construction crews arrived in Point Pleasant to begin work on the massive water supply project. Opponents were certain that if the pump came on line, thousands of homes would spring up in the rural parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

“Many of the opponents were convinced that the pump would dry up the river, killing fish in the streams and plant and animal life along the waterway and nearby creeks. (It did not)

“Later that spring, Bucks County voters adopted a referendum calling for the county commissioners to stop construction. That fall, the Republican administration that approved the project was ousted from office.

“But Del-AWARE’s victories would be short-lived. The courts eventually ruled the contracts signed by the Bucks Commissioners were binding.” The pump was built and water continues to be transferred from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River.

“Former Commissioner Andy Warren was elected in 1979 on a pledge to build the pump. He pointed out that while the pump has been in operation for nearly 15 years, the Delaware River remains a vibrant waterway. The river has kept on flowing,” he said.

“Former Bucks County Judge Isaac S. “Zeke” Garb issued the injunction barring protesters from the site, then upheld the water supply contracts that led to the resumption of work. He became a focal point of the protesters’ anger, sending them to jail with one stroke of his pen, then ordering work to resume with another.”

Zeke Garb was facing a 10-year judicial retention election that year and most political pundits expected him not to preside over such a controversial case. But Garb was fearless and took charge anyway. Voters approved another 10 years on the bench for him.

This fascinating story began about 50 years ago. And here we are today. People still remain divided about this project …its purpose and its results. But several facts do remain. Bucks residents enjoy the expanded park system … especially Lake Galena in Central Bucks and Lake Luxembourg in Lower Bucks. And the land acquisition was financed through the sale of water to PECO.

As the French say, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” (The more things change, the more they are the same.)

Sincerely, Charles Meredith


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