Issues for Utilities and Infrastructure
Overlapping state and federal programs regulating infrastructure and utilities make planning difficult. These programs are constantly being revised, are highly technical, and municipalities may not have the staffing and time ability to implement them. Municipalities have a difficult time implementing overlapping programs that regulate infrastructure and utility activity. This is further exasperated by the fact that infrastructure and land use planning are not coordinated.
There are regulatory programs that blanket Chester County, ranging from stormwater to water quality of our streams. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) addresses discharges associated with stormwater, small flow treatment facilities, and others. The Chesapeake Bay Initiatives deal with nutrient loading into the Bay and its tributaries. There are also Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements being developed for all watersheds in the county that will determine waste load allocations for each stream. Pennsylvania Act 167, relating to stormwater management planning and Pennsylvania Act 537, relating to sewage facilities planning, require compliance, and, in some cases, enforcement, from the municipalities of Chester County. Without proper guidance from the respective program's agency, this process can be confusing for municipalities.
- Coordination and cooperative planning between municipalities, utility providers, and other involved agencies is fragmented, yet vital to the success of land development and land preservation across municipal boundary lines and the region.
Municipalities have enacted their own ordinances and Act 537 plans for sewage disposal; however, these do not always coincide with neighboring municipalities or adjacent regional planning efforts. There is a need to inform and encourage coordination between municipalities to ensure compliance with all affected plans and ordinances. The Landscapes2 survey indicated that many of the issues facing municipalities today go beyond municipal borders. Those who responded to the survey identified cooperative planning between municipalities as the third most important topic residents would like to see addressed in the county.
- Ensuring the proper operation and maintenance of on-lot sewage disposal systems is becoming more complicated due in part to lot clustering in areas not served by public sewer services, and the location of replacement beds into community and homeowner association open space.
Since the adoption of Landscapes in 1996, many developers have minimized lot size to retain open space and protect fragile resources. While a noble goal, many of these lots can accommodate only the primary disposal system while secondary systems are being located within common or homeowners association open space where they go unmonitored and are often improperly maintained. Homeowners may not know the location of their replacement systems, and as a result, are not aware if their system is failing.
- There is a need for a closer examination of development design in terms of providing the most appropriate means of sewage disposal.
Municipal Act 537 sewage facilities plans identify areas of a municipality that are to receive public sewage disposal and which areas are to use subsurface sewage disposal. Once these plans are in place, and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), it is imperative that municipalities enforce their plans and require developments to select the most appropriate disposal option, as outlined in the Act 537.
- Local land use decisions have regional impacts as infrastructure has struggled to keep pace with development.
As the population of Chester County has increased, so has the need for upgraded infrastructure. There is a need for additional sewer and water capacity, extension of electric, gas and communication systems, and a need for managing stormwater runoff. As a result of the additional demands on public infrastructure, there is often a need to expand service areas or rebuild facilities to accommodate new users. Development not only has an effect on historic, natural, and scenic resources, but also has a profound effect on the infrastructure that is in place. Local decisions have a regional impact. While often providing a positive contribution to the local tax base, decisions can place excessive demands on the existing infrastructure.
- There is a growing need to upgrade aging infrastructure and obtain the necessary funding to perform those upgrades.
The need to upgrade aging infrastructure in our city and boroughs is moving to the forefront as redevelopment gains popularity. How to fund these systems has become an important issue facing the county. Larger regional systems have more resources at their disposal, and have the potential for new user fees and tap-in fees to help fund system upgrades, whereas many older urban systems have few new users or service area extensions to perform similar upgrades. As a result, there are many entities competing for the same funding opportunities, such as Penn Vest program and community development grants.
- Emerging contaminants are being found in increasing concentrations in wastewater.
Senior housing developments and assisted living facilities are starting to experience increased pharmaceutical pollution in wastewater due to the medications that residents are taking. As a result, measures are needed to address the negative effect on land disposal, surface and ground water contamination, and wastewater treatment.
- The requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Tributaries Initiative are having a direct effect on the permitting and function of wastewater treatment plants throughout western Chester County.
Municipalities in western Chester County are facing the unique challenge of accommodating the wastewater needs of a growing population, while at the same time addressing the obligation to limit nutrient discharges into the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. According to the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategies, the cause of increased nutrient discharges into the Bay is primarily due to population growth. Increased population leads to increased discharge rates from sewage treatment plants. This increased discharge, when combined with the discharges of on-lot sewage disposal systems, complicates the expansion of, and upgrades to existing infrastructure. Some regional sewer authorities are finding it difficult to comply with requirements that call for a no net increase of nutrients entering the watershed. The rising cost of real estate for land application of treated effluent further complicates this issue.
- Moratoriums on older municipally owned systems can discourage development and redevelopment opportunities in urbanized areas and potentially encourage growth and sprawl in non-developed areas of the county.
Municipal governments and wastewater authorities are facing greater complications when attempting to expand or upgrade sewage treatment infrastructure. Due to increasingly stringent regulations on water quality, such as the TMDL Program and NPDES Program, more moratoriums are being issued by the PADEP to halt new connections to treatment plants. These moratoriums commonly call for a ceasing of new discharges into the surface waters of the county. In many cases, the treatment plants that are in need of upgrading are small, municipally owned systems in urbanized areas. In some cases, these moratoriums can discourage redevelopment and new development in Landscapes2 growth areas, such as areas where wastewater treatment plants and systems already exists.
- There is a concern among environmental agencies that streams are approaching their carrying capacity to process and dilute pollutants. At that time, treated wastewater effluent will have to be disposed of in another manner.
This issue poses many questions that involve regulatory and enforcement frameworks. The TMDLs and other programs under development will regulate the amount of pollutants and nutrients allowed into water bodies. At issue is how to proceed if these regulations determine that the streams of Chester County are at their carrying capacity for nutrients and pollutants.
- The need to extend public sewer service to rural areas with failing septic systems is in direct conflict with the Landscapes2 policy to restrict such extension into rural landscapes.
While extending public sewer service into the rural resource areas is in direct conflict with Landscapes2, sometimes it is necessary for the public health and safety of the residents. There is a need to explore the possibility of establishing a monitoring process that would offer water testing to ensure a safe supply to well users.
Drinking Water Supply
- There is currently no measure of the total water supply available in the county from the larger regional sources available for future supplies.
Chester County uses the Brandywine Creek, Octoraro Creek, and Schuylkill River, among others, as part of its drinking water supply, as do many other counties. There is no set allocation on what geographic location can withdraw what quantity of water at any given time. As a result, there is no tracking of who is drawing what quantity and how much will be available to Chester County in the future. The county should examine cooperative regional projections to see how much water will be available 20-30 years from now, and to ensure that Chester County can acquire the amount of water it will need to supply its citizens for the future.
- The State Water Plan will have implications on local and county water and infrastructure planning.
In recent years, areas of the state have been experiencing conflicts over how water sources can meet the supply and demand of residents. The creation of the State Water Plan affects the way that water is planned for throughout the county, from water withdrawals, to the creation of critical planning areas. Because these aspects have not been finalized, it is not known how this statewide planning effort will coordinate with the planning timeframe of Landscapes2, or the impact it will have on infrastructure planning throughout the county.
- Some rural municipalities of the county are concerned that public sewage and water purveyors will establish franchise areas within their boundaries and unwanted growth and development will result.
Many rural municipalities in Chester County want to maintain their undeveloped character, and so they have adopted land use planning and zoning documentation to reflect those desires. Water supply and sewer providers need to consider local and regional planning efforts before proposing expansions to the franchise and service areas that they serve. Such expansion of services can contradict the long-standing adopted planning efforts of rural municipalities.
- There is a lack of awareness among municipal officials that aquifers do not have the capability to cleanse or dilute themselves.
When an aquifer becomes polluted, there is a significant possibility that the base flow of hydrologically connected streams will also become polluted. Thus, ground water pollution can lead to negative impacts on the surface waters of the county that supply drinking water to its residents. Today's polluted aquifer can become tomorrow's polluted stream. In areas of the county where there is a proliferation of aging on-lot sewage disposal systems, the risk for a system failure resulting in fecal contamination of the local aquifer exists. Additional threats to aquifers include nitrates and pesticides, as well as other agricultural, landscaping, and stormwater-related pollutants.
- Water balance issues, involving the amount of water that is withdrawn from and the amount of water being returned to a stream and watershed, are becoming increasingly important in land planning.
Regulatory programs will require water balance information. Regional suppliers can withdraw millions of gallons of water per day, and treatment plants can discharge millions of gallons of water per day. There is no system in place for tracking the effects of these large withdrawals and discharges on the health and available water quantity of the streams of Chester County. When water withdrawals and discharges applications are made, the impacts on the source watershed and receiving watershed are not always considered.
- There is little consistency between wastewater planning and water supply planning.
In designated growth areas, where public water and sewers exist, the two should be planned for and expanded simultaneously. This supports Landscapes2 Policy 6.3.3, as it relates to joint utility rights-of-way. PADEP currently requires that applications for public sewer provide information on the public water supply, as well as a guarantee that the receiving sewer system can accommodate the proposed flows.
Solid and Hazardous Waste
- The projected growth of Chester County will outpace the capacity of existing solid waste and recycling services and facilities.
Chester County is one of the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania, continuing to attract new residents, businesses and industries. Growth has been faster than anticipated. With this growth, comes the additional waste that must be disposed of in a safe, long-term manner. Continued development of trash service and recycling service for the county in accordance with municipal ordinances and Pennsylvania Act 101, which requires counties to develop formal plans for managing municipal wastes to ensure ten years of available disposal capacity and establish a post-closure care trust fund for landfills, is important to ensure proper waste management throughout the county as development continues.
- The Methane Gas Recovery Facilities at the county's two landfills create and use a renewable energy resource, but at this time, its use is limited.
The two landfills that Chester County uses, Lanchester and SECCRA, both use methane gas recovery. Lanchester landfill, since it began its resource recovery project, has been able to use enough gas to save 122,800 barrels of oil, provide greenhouse gas reduction benefits equal to planting 15,600 acres of forest, or heat 33,900 homes. SECCRA's facility plans to ultimately generate nearly 1 megawatt of electricity on a continuous basis, roughly the amount of electricity it takes to run 500 homes, and will sell this energy to a provider for consumer use.
- Municipalities are not fully participating in the county's Regional Household Hazardous Waste Collection Programs.
If household hazardous waste enters the solid waste stream improperly, it can pose a public health and safety threat. Additional public outreach associated with household hazardous waste, in support of the Chester County Health Department and Solid Waste Authority is needed. More municipal coordination and acceptance is needed to better insure public health and safety.
- Hazardous waste site redevelopment can be technologically complicated and costly.
Hazardous waste sites need to be well mapped and information kept up to date for redevelopment safety. In recent years, the county has found that redevelopment sites are attempting to use such alternative technologies as geothermal heat. As a result, some redevelopment projects are finding that the cleanup and the cost of implementing the technology is not feasible, and in some cases not safe.
- Land recycling efforts of the state, as they relate to brownfield redevelopment and land recycling, require more effective coordination at the county level.
Pennsylvania Act 2 of 1995, the Land Recycling Program, provides for the voluntary cleanup and reuse of contaminated industrial and commercial sites. The Chester County Health Department, Department of Community Development, Planning Commission, and the Chester County Economic Development Council provide support for land recycling efforts throughout the county, through mapping, public outreach, grant funding, and other guidance. These measures, however, are not always coordinated to ensure that redevelopment sites are being properly utilized to the safest extent possible, while not burdening property owners who are voluntarily participating in Act 2 efforts.
Electric, Power and Pipelines
- Expanding pipeline "mega-corridors" will affect future planning for municipalities on an unknown level.
With the proposed multi-state expansion of pipeline corridors, such as the Sparrow's Point/Transcontinental Pipeline project, municipalities will need to plan for the future, taking into consideration the scale of projects and corridors that may be unlike anything they have known, to date. Additionally, existing pipeline infrastructure may need to be upgraded and/or expanded to accommodate these larger capacities, while minimizing the risk to health and safety of residents.
- The awarding of utility easements on private property without regard to future development has the potential to limit the placement, function, and replacement of on-lot systems.
In areas that use on-lot sewage disposal and water supply, some landowners may have eased the land set aside for an on-lot disposal system replacement area to a utility provider. In the event that their primary system was to fail, the homeowner might not have access to a replacement area because of the easement to the utility provider. Furthermore, future construction by a utility provider in lands adjacent to existing on-lot disposal systems and water supplies could negatively impact the function of those systems through soil compaction, disturbance of the drain field, or encroachment into the isolation area.
- There are growing landowner concerns over the Mid-Atlantic Energy Corridor designation by the US Department of Energy.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue permits for new transmission facilities within a national corridor. The FERC may only become involved in consideration if a state has not approved a proposed project. The Department of Energy has designated these corridors, including the Mid-Atlantic Energy Corridor, under the Act. Some Chester County landowners are concerned that their properties may be used for transmission corridor projects due to the large amounts of undeveloped land that exists.
- Due to issues of national security and privacy, gaining information on service areas, franchise areas, and mapping of utilities has become difficult, and as a result, is affecting review processes.
In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, gaining access to information regarding franchise and service areas for transmission lines and corridors from utility providers has become increasingly difficult. For planning purposes, this information is integral to the review of planning projects, such as Public Utility Commission reviews as they relate to water and wastewater franchise area expansions, as well as energy and communication provisions. The availability of this information would enable the county to call attention to overlapping projects, and help project applications move through the review process more efficiently.
- Traditional carbon energy sources are finite, costly, and may pose risks to the environment.
There are economic and environmental benefits of using alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, and landfill resource recovery energies. The county needs to support these advances in renewable energy resources, as outlined in Landscapes2 Policy 6.3.1, Support the use of renewable energy resources.
Communication networks are some of the most rapidly developing technologies in the county and most municipalities have not taken technological advances into consideration in the planning process.
In 1996, the county reviewed ten proposed cellular towers. By 2009, more than 185 exist. The communications infrastructure has become increasingly important over the past ten years as the economy and residents of Chester County continue to rely upon information technology. There are many forms of communications networks reshaping how the county does business. Furthermore, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated the telecommunications industry, as well as technological advances and changes in the way business performs, all contribute to the potential for growth and the change that has occurred in the past decade.
Municipalities are not adequately prepared to comprehensively plan for stormwater management, not only as a natural resource issue, but also as an infrastructure issue.
In the past, stormwater was regarded as primarily a natural resource issue. With development continuing throughout the county, the number of community and municipal stormwater systems continues to grow, increasing the amount of infrastructure that must be managed, maintained and eventually be upgraded or replaced. Efforts to implement comprehensive stormwater management at the local level should be consistent with the goals and objectives set forth in Watersheds.