Board gives nod to limits on building near wells

Posted: August 21, 2002

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Mothers and fathers, youngsters with baby-sitters, environmentalists, and development foes converged at the Washington Township planning board meeting last night, demanding one thing from officials: clean, safe drinking water.

About 200 residents, including 25 children, turned out, and some handed out bottled water from coolers. They called on officials to endorse a strict new law that would limit development around municipal wells.

By night's end, the board had put its stamp of approval on the plan favored by the residents.

The next step will come Sept. 5, when the Township Council is scheduled to cast a final vote on the measure.

"Wars have been fought over water," said Raymond Rapposelli, the planning board chairman, who supported the measure.

After the unanimous vote, residents cheered and vowed to continue their campaign in front of the council.

"The best thing there is to protect the water and the wells is this Wellhead Protection Act," resident Rich Gerber said, addressing the board.

The ordinance would restrict any development that could pollute Washington Township's 15 wells, which draw water from underground aquifers. It is designed to keep contaminants as far from wellheads as possible.

If the law is passed, development would be limited on hundreds of acres, some of the property commercially zoned land that could bring in tax-generating businesses.

Developers last night argued that the law would be too restrictive. Different wording could accomplish the same purpose but also allow development, they said.

Robert Mintz, a lawyer for developer American Continental Properties Inc., said the township had to consider economic development in addition to clean water.

"The key is to find a way to make these two items compatible," Mintz said.

In the last several years, Washington Township has encountered serious problems with its wells, and it has applied for $8 million in loans to build radium-treatment plants.

Two other contaminants have also been found in township wells. One well was contaminated with gasoline from underground storage tanks and another with trichloropropane, a probable carcinogen. Neither is being used.

American Continental, based in Turnersville, owns 162 acres near three township wells. Planning board members said applications to build on that ground would be considered case by case.

Township Council members Michelle Martin and David Bruce attended last night's meeting and said they would vote for the wellhead measure. The council has five members.

"We need to provide clean drinking water for the residents of Washington Township," Martin said. "We need to vote yes."

Contact Maureen Graham

at 856-779-8302 or mgraham@phillynews.com.

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