At last week’s Newtown Township Board of Supervisors bi-monthly meeting, discussion over the township’s Pollution Reduction Plan (PRP) grew heated. At the center of the debate is a 6.21-acre portion of Roberts Ridge Park that the township had planned to turn into meadowland.
By the end of the more than two and a half hour session, however, Township Manager Micah Lewis was walking back at least part of that plan, saying he’d have the public works department mow the meadow the next day.
It was made quite clear by several residents who live in close proximity to Roberts Ridge that citizens do not want to see that portion of the open space that sits closest to their homes turned into a meadow – even if the township’s reasons for doing so are hinged on reducing pollution runoff into local waterways.
“The word meadow suggests something very beautiful. But I was born and raised in Jersey City and my father would take the dog for a walk in the Secaucus Meadowlands; it wasn’t so beautiful.
“I don’t like it in my backyard,” said Mary Ingrassia, of Newtown Walk.
“I know it has to go somewhere but I have to register: the word meadow really doesn’t accurately describe 6.2 acres that will really be rather unkempt, mowed only two times a year.”
Some Windermere homeowners want their open space returned, saying the park is used by Parks & Recreation to operate a youth soccer program. Attendee Ellen Snyder wanted to know why this portion of Roberts Ridge was targeted for meadow conversion.
“It is a portion of the park that’s not designated for a specific use,” responded Township Manager Micah Lewis.
“As I can attest, it’s used all the time,” she shot back. “We meet there every day with our animals to have obedience training, there’s all sorts of things.”
According to Snyder, though Newtown Walk residents were notified of the meadow conversion at Roberts Ridge, homeowners across the street at Windermere Townhomes were not.
“We should have been notified so that we would have had a chance to organize in a better way than this,” said Snyder. “Nobody that I talked to is for this.”
According to Lewis, the plan was published in legal announcements along with a notice that the township was accepting comments it is required to submit alongside the PRP. The meadow conversion at Roberts Ridge began, said Lewis, in an effort to show the DEP the township’s commitment to pollution reduction.
“It is my recommendation – and the engineer’s as well – that we begin this process now,” said Lewis.
“DEP likes to see that the township is committed to this. In the spirit, we started to implement those areas.”
Jennifer Loessy of Rumford Court suggested the township move the meadow to a more northerly location along Frost lane, adding that there are other areas along Council Rock School District property nearby that could be candidates for meadow conversion.
Three years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified the DEP it wants the state to get back on track meeting a regional sediment reduction plan aimed at reducing pollutants that flow into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Since half the state is located within the Chesapeake Bay drainage area, the DEP was forced to devise a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). Phase 3 of that plan is currently being drafted.
For Newtowners, it means the DEP wants the township to reduce pollutants that enter nearby watersheds by 10 percent. The agency wants to see Newtown reduce the amount of sediments that typically enter Neshaminy Creek, Core Creek and Lake Luxembourg, setting the specific parameters at a reduction of 202,252 pounds of sediment per year entering these waterways for five years.
The township announced last month it would turn seven municipal basins into meadows along with some areas of parkland it determined to be underused. Currently undergoing a review period whereby the public can comment, the plan includes stream restoration projects.
While Neshaminy Creek Watershed Association treasurer Nicholas Iadicicco, of Newtown, says he supports any efforts to reduce pollution within the watershed, he is surprised the township began implementing the plan before the end of the comment period.
If Newtown is going to reach the 10 percent goal in sediment reduction, the township is going to need professional help. Former Newtown resident Joyce Ely says she’s just the person to give it.
The watershed association’s founder and director, she’s also a biologist and a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) conservation volunteer for the past seven years. She says her organization has plenty of experience.
“You can probably get away with saving some of these meadows if you can find some other places, especially riparian zones along your creeks and tributaries and get some trees planted there,” said Ely.
For now at least, it looks like the township is walking back its plan to convert to meadowland that six-plus acre plot in Roberts Ridge Park.
People want clean water; that much is known. The question becomes however, how much folks are willing to sacrifice to ensure the local water supply.