The White Township board of supervisors tabled public display of a proposed stewardship plan for White’s Woods at Wednesday’s meeting.
Four of the five supervisors agreed that the township should wait until a forester from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has the opportunity to review the township’s proposal for portions of the 250-acre township recreation area and make comments.
Manager Milt Lady told the board the plan was submitted to the forester earlier this week.
“I think we need to get it out,” board Chairman George Lenz said.
“I think we should wait until we have the forester’s comment,” Supervisor Eugene Gemmell said, as he moved to table the motion until the supervisors’ next meeting on June 10 at 1 p.m.
Supervisor Sandi Gillette seconded the motion and colleagues Rich Gallo and Gail McCauley also voted to table the matter.
The meeting opened with what essentially was “no comment” from the board about the lawsuit filed Friday by the Friends of White’s Woods organization in Indiana County Court of Common Pleas.
That’s FWW’s contention that the township violated the state’s Sunshine Act in its handling of agreements with Millstone Land Management LLC of Marion Center; that board actions violated the state’s Municipal Planning Code; and that plans for invasive species removal and timbering there would cause irreparable harm to the White’s Woods Nature Center.
“We have not been formally given a copy of your suit,” Lenz said.
Solicitor Matthew Ross said he went to the Indiana County Court House for a copy of the FWW filing, but, in any case, Lenz said, “it becomes a matter that already is in (litigation).”
Much of the discussion of White’s Woods centered on stormwater problems, particularly along Edgewood Avenue and Forest Ridge Road in a housing development just east of the township park.
“A lot of water ran down from up in White’s Woods,” resident Fred Heilman said.
Assistant Township Manager Chris Anderson said the overflow follows saturation of the nearby grounds, after what have been “historically … higher-than-normal rainfall” in recent years.
Resident Jay Dahlheimer told the board, “My neighbors are scared to death” of new flooding.
The board chairman saw another factor that was there before any homes were built, saying those on the township planning commission at that time should have considered it.
“Can we assume there were springs there before the subdivision?” Lenz said. “Whenever there was a subdivision put in, it should have been addressed.”
As later pointed out by FWW Vice President Andrew Davis, plans there also will have to be vetted for erosion and sedimentation by the Indiana County Conservation District, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“(Contractor Mike Lawer of Millstone) cannot start any work until the conservation district reviews that plan and offers comment or makes a recommendation,” Lady said.
Township officials then pressed FWW members, particularly Dahlheimer, regarding what they have proposed. Lenz and Gillette said they understood they would hire a conservationist/forester to work with the township.
Davis listened in to the meeting. He later said his proposal was misunderstood.
“When I spoke with Sandi Gillette, I told her we would be willing to work with the township,” the FWW vice president said. “I never promised anything. I hadn’t made a formal proposal. We’re doing everything that we can to get public input and get additional experts to provide their input.”
Three experts, faculty members from the biology department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, provided their input in a letter to Lady.
“From an ecological standpoint, White’s Woods is obviously in need of evidence-based and scientifically sound forest management to improve its health and strengthen its resilience,” wrote Jeffery Larkin, Thomas Simmons and Michael Tyree. “However, the combination of opening up the canopy to allow sunlight penetration to the forest floor, disturbing the forest floor by mechanical mulching of invasive plants, and rototilling the soil as proposed in the Millstone plan, and not excluding white-tailed deer will unquestionably create conditions that are ideal for invasive plant colonization and proliferation, and are detrimental to forest regeneration and sustainability.”
The letter was written on university stationery. Lenz said that prompted IUP President Dr. Michael A. Driscoll to disavow it, saying he didn’t want IUP personnel involved in a political situation.
Still, Davis said, some positive steps have been taken.
“I think things are moving in a better direction,” he said.
Gallo said he did not appreciate those “questioning our credibility.” But, McCauley said, “we are five people who have the best interest of White Township at heart. The people of White Township understand, we hire good people.”
In other business Wednesday, the supervisors approved:
• A final payment of $9,000 that had been held back as a retainer, when the township voted to pay the contractor of the traffic signal job at Warren Road and Ben Franklin Road South. Lady said PennDOT asked the township to make the final payment, so the transportation department could close its books for fiscal 2019-20.
• A resolution for a sewage facility that would be part of the planning for the Westmoreland County Community College and Challenger Learning Center adjacent to the Indiana County Technology Center. The board voted 4-0 with Lenz abstaining because he had done a real estate appraisal on that property.
• A motion to open the township office to the public during daytime hours if Gov. Tom Wolf issues a green phase order for Indiana County on June 5. Lady said the office would resume daytime hours on June 8.
Also, the supervisors proposed a meeting Aug. 12 at 1 p.m. with Citizens’ Ambulance Service officials. Lady said the regional ambulance service is still coping with financial problems, and “still looking for a way to survive.”