white township sign

A controversy dating to a quarter-century ago has been renewed in White Township, over plans for dealing with what the township considers a serious invasive and non-desirable plant issue throughout White’s Woods, a township park between College Lodge, Chevy Chase and the north end of Indiana Borough.

Township Manager Milt Lady said today he has received several emails from township residents regarding plans announced last week by the township and its consultant, Millstone Land Management LLC of Marion Center, to bolster “forest health, aesthetics and safety” this spring and summer “on a 50-acre upland dry site.”

Millstone’s Mike Lawer said the plan “is not traditional logging” and not meant for economic benefit. Lady said it is a different approach from what was proposed, but never carried out, about 10 years ago.

However, those requests for details are coming amid a state of emergency where, as Lady put it, “we are in a layoff mode, and I am concerned about my employees first and foremost.”

A spokesman for a citizen group expressed his objection in a news release.

“It appears that the White Township supervisors are now planning to resurrect the timber operations following a ‘different approach’ from their previous attempts,” said Robert W. Lambert, a retired attorney who said he is among members of the board of Friends of White’s Woods.

“The members of FWW have been prohibited from traveling to the township offices to examine the public records relating to the tree removal and timbering operations as a result of the governor’s coronavirus stay-at-home order,” Lambert said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Despite many requests, the White Township supervisors have blatantly refused to furnish FWW with a copy of the plan adopted by the township, notwithstanding the fact that it is a public document, subject to inspection under the (state) Open Records Law.”

However, Lady said, while he has received several emails, he’s received none from Lambert.

“I have tried to reply to them either the same day or the next day,” Lady said. “(I am) giving them as much as I can in an email. One of them, I encouraged him to call our forester and do a walkthrough. He has not done that.”

The township manager said that email came from a group of three or four individuals concerned about White’s Woods, and suggested that there may be a lack of communication within Friends of White’s Woods.

He said Lawer “would be more than happy to explain the process and the forthcoming plan that we have.”

One email was dated a week ago but went through the township website and Lady said he did not see it until Monday.

In its announcement last week, the township said Lawer “is very confident that the issue can be treated following proposed forest management objectives,” using mechanized forest mulching, root invigoration and a selectively objective timber removal.

As for the Open Records Law, Lady said, since the township office is closed, the state Office of Open Records has said it is not counted as a business day against deadlines for providing such records.

Lambert recalled “earlier attempts by the White Township supervisors to conduct timbering operations in White’s Woods in 2007-2009 and in 1995.” He said those plans “were abandoned after FWW exposed the scope of the proposed deforestation.”

As offered in 2007, the township was proposing a harvest of trees over the span of 10 years. As proposed by Millstone this month, this year’s project would be completed by the end of summer.

Lambert also said the township is blocking access to what it plans for White’s Woods, by hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have not once told them that I have refused to provide the document,” Lady said.

Or, perhaps more accurately, documents, plural. The township manager said “a substantial amount of documents” are involved.

Lambert insisted that all he and his group are seeking “at this juncture, before the township commences operations that may adversely affect the environment and beauty of the scenic White’s Woods park, is the opportunity to examine the township plans and for the citizens of the community to have an opportunity to be heard.”

He conceded that “we have been somewhat dormant over the past 10 years, and that “one or two of the board members (or) former board members have moved out of the area,” but he said there still were eight to 10 board members and “a host of members/supporters who are involved.”