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Residents voice concerns regarding water quality permit application for proposed Blair County Wal-Mart

The proposed Wal-Mart Super Center, to be located along Old Route 220 and Sabbath Rest Road, has created a lot of controversy over the past several years.
The latest issue had concerned residents attending a public hearing, organized by The Department of Environmental Protection, to voice their opinions on a permit application from Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust.
The water quality post-construction permit covers storm water discharges during construction and post-construction activities associated with the proposed Wal-Mart Super Center, which will be situated near Sandy Run.
According to a previous DEP press release, Wal-Mart’s application proposes erosion and sedimentation controls including silt fences, run-off collection channels, sediment traps and sedimentation basins. Wal-Mart also proposes constructing permanent storm water controls, such as infiltration basins and water treatment units.
Since the beginning, local residents have felt strongly about the addition of Wal-Mart to the Pinecroft area. Many oppose the construction of the new Super Center, while some feel the store will be an asset to the community.
However, many of the people voicing their concerns say they are not opposed to the construction of the store, they just want it done right.
The meeting, which was held at the Antis Township Municipal Building, brought out a large crowd. Nine individuals were scheduled to share their opinions with the DEP.
One presenter was Bill R. Anderson, who was representing both himself and the Little Juniata River Association, of which he is President.
Anderson told DEP representatives it is the mission of the LJRA to “Monitor, preserve and improve the Little Juniata River and its tributaries as a cold water resource”.
He said for the past three years, LJRA has been actively pursuing the protection of the Sandy Run springs and its surrounding lands.
“We care about all Little Juniata tributaries but we are particularly watchful of Sandy Run because of the enormous contribution of cold water which means this stream and its springs contribute to the upper Little Juniata River,” said Anderson.
He went on to explain a Wal-Mart Super Center development will add to flooding woes in Tyrone.
“With 20 acres of roof and parking lots, and more to follow,” Anderson said, “downstream flooding problems in Tyrone and Smithfield are guaranteed to be worsened.
“The Tyrone Borough Council and the folks from Smithfield should really have a representative who attends every Antis and Logan Township meeting regarding development. Projects such as this massive Wal-Mart super store and all the other excessive development planned for the Pinecroft area and on Brush Mountain in Logan Township, virtually ensure that future flooding on Park Avenue and downtown Tyrone will be intensified.
“Scalping and paving every field and hillside in the Little Juniata head waters is under way. Those who are making these decisions will not have to cope with the resulting store water run-off. Downstream municipalities, businesses and residents will,” said Anderson.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s hearing was Gary Miller, a resident of Bel-Aire Estates, which sits adjacent to the proposed Wal-Mart site.
He opened by saying he was speaking both as a concerned citizen and an environmentalist with a degree in biology.
“As a citizen, I’m worried about what this store will bring to our relatively quiet area in regards to traffic, noise and crime…however, as a biologist, I am far more concerned about what may happen to the large and unique limestone spring complex, the exceptional value wetlands, Sandy Run and its tributary located adjacent to the proposed construction site.”
Both Anderson and Miller pointed out the existing use of Sandy Run as a High Quality Cold Water Fishery, due to the presence of wild reproducing brown trout.
“This designation also qualifies the stream and adjacent wetlands as a Special Protection Watershed,” said Gary Miller.
“I have to wonder what impacts will occur to this area as a result of blasting 100 feet down into the nearby limestone formation, from the loss of water infiltration and from the inevitable storm water discharge.
“Not to mention the effects on and the displacement of the wildlife and aquatic species within this ‘special and protected watershed’”.
One point Miller made to DEP representatives was the fact that Wal-Mart is building ‘green’ stores in other states. He said he wanted to let DEP know there are other options.
Sarah Miller also took the opportunity to address DEP representatives about the NPDES permit.
“I am speaking here tonight as both a resident of Antis Township who lives in Bel-Aire Estates, and also as a representative of Bellwood-Antis P.L.A.N. (Protecting Lands and Neighborhoods).
“Bellwood-Antis PLAN is a grassroots organization that is comprised of 50 residents of Bel-Aire Estates and business owners along Sabbath Rest Road who are concerned with the negative impacts that such a large-scale development will bring to our rural community.”
Bellwood-Antis PLAN has been deeply involved in this project since it was first proposed in November, 2005.
“First, we are concerned that the proposed development will degrade the physical, chemical, and biological environment of Sandy Run and its wetlands,” said Sarah Miller.
“DEP storm water regulations mandate that in special protection waters (including Exceptional Value wetlands) the applicant must demonstrate that ‘the post-construction runoff volume, rate, and quality equals the pre-construction runoff volume, rate, and quality.’”
Miller referenced a report from DEP Geologist, Mark Sigouin, dated March 28, 2007, which said, ‘Construction of impermeable surfaces for the proposed Wal-Mart facility will prevent infiltration of precipitation from recharging the aquifer beneath the parking area and building. This, in turn, will cutoff that portion of groundwater originating in the aquifer beneath the impermeable surfaces…The lost groundwater recharge will be diverted as surface water run-off. This surface water runoff has the potential during the warmer times of the year to impact the water temperatures of the exceptional wetlands and Sandy Run.’”
So what can we do ensure that Sandy Run and its wetlands remain a vital natural resource and an asset to our community?
“Bellwood-Antis PLAN urges DEP to take a watershed approach to preserving these special protection waters,” said Sarah Miller.
The Millers feel the residual land that Wal-Mart currently owns, a parcel of approximately 75 acres, provides a perfect opportunity to compensate for the loss of permeable surface and preserve open space in the watershed.
Sarah Miller said, “Bellwood-Antis PLAN believes this outparcel should be protected in perpetuity. The outparcel is not adjacent to any major road artery making its commercial viability low.
“Access to the site is also problematic and also diminishes its value for development. On the plus side for preservation, it is a forested woodlot that is home to many species of wildlife and birds…It could also serve as the start of a recreational greenway for Antis Township.
“Wal-Mart has allegedly permanently preserved over 395,000 acres. Why not add another 75 to this total by preserving the residual land?”
Also speaking at Tuesday’s meeting was John Frederick, Project Leader for the Antis Region Groundwater Protection Project.
“Throughout the 90s, we engaged in four public outreach campaigns, tested water samples and compiled groundwater and wellhead data in the township,” said Frederick.
“Our efforts gained us recognition as a national Groundwater Guardian by the Groundwater Foundation for five consecutive years.”
He also said in a community survey near the end of that time period, Frederick said water resources were named the number one concern among residents in both Antis Township and Bellwood Borough.
“Beyond some of the obvious issues associated with its close proximity to high quality wetlands and waterways, I would like to elaborate on several related issues,” said Frederick.
He went on to explain, “The hill that is to be ripped away by the massive cut and fill operation is a limestone aquifer that sets atop a more impervious shale formation. Water percolates through this limestone sponge and bursts forth to the surface at the contact zone between these two vastly different rock formations.
“Beyond producing the wetlands and supplying additional water to Sandy Run and then the Little Juniata, these springs dictated early settlement patterns all along this geologic feature.”
The main points Frederick touched upon were: Permeable surfaces should be maximized to facilitate groundwater infiltration and minimize run-off; the building should fit the site rather than ripping the site apart to fit the building and downstream preventive measures should be considered.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this development, as proposed, is not appropriate for this site.
“Wal-Mart is trying to build a single level building and parking lot that will cover close to 20 acres with impervious surface on a site that is suitable for a development of perhaps half that size.
Frederick continued, saying, “If Wal-Mart is truly concerned about being a good neighbor, they will acknowledge that the preservation of these high quality wetlands and watershed is a cost of constructing a building on this spot”.
“As homeowners, we have a lot at stake here and potentially a lot to lose. To Wal-Mart, this is just another store in another nameless, faceless town. To us, this is our community, our neighborhood, it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, where we live, work, and raise our families,” said Sarah Miller.
“As guardians of the Little Juniata River, a unique trout fishery with a growing national reputation,” Anderson said, “we firmly insist that this site is not suitable for the Wal-Mart development as proposed. We maintain that there is no practical way to ensure that Sandy Run, its springs and wetlands can be adequately protected.”
Anderson asked DEP to deny the NPDES application but added if permission was granted, “we strongly insist that there be continuous independent monitoring, both during and after construction, at the developers expense.”
These are just a few of the points that were brought up by the concerned citizens who spoke at the hearing. The Millers, Anderson and Frederick all thanked DEP for conducting the public hearing and for taking the time to listen to resident’s concerns.
The DEP will continue to accept written testimony through December 11. Written comments should be sent to Mr. Ramez Ziadeh, Chief, Permitting and Technical Services Section, Watershed Management Program, DEP Southcentral Regional Office, 909 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, Pa. 17110, and should include the name, address and telephone number of the writer.