The Oxford Tribune and Rachel Pilgren deserve much credit for their reporting of the recent DEP response to the Oxford Area Sewer Authority's submission of a regional sewage plan for the Oxford area. While the sewer authority's Executive Director is quoted as saying that this response is "how the process goes," I would have to respectfully disagree. As someone who has read and studied this regional Act 537 plan, such an extensive response letter from DEP is a reflection of the attempt to produce sprawling sewage infrastructure outside the framework of an up-to-date comprehensive plan which would provide for appropriate growth in appropriate locations.Specifically, the sewer authority and its member municipalities have failed to show the public exactly where the sewer lines are planned and which development projects will be accommodated in exchange for the advance of cash to cover initial costs for the eventual millions of dollars worth of sewage treatment and disposal facilities that are documented in the submitted Act 537 plan. Much of the investment for the proposed sewage plan will need to come from extended locations that will involve lengthy sewer lines from the existing treatment facility. Contrary to what many of us have heard, the developers will not truly be paying for the cost of this sewer expansion. Only some of the infrastructure will be covered through a Developers' Agreement, where the partners (who may change from time to time) will be paid back for capacity beyond their "allocations" (assuming there is any left over) through the existing and future rate payers, since the partners' projects will be exempt from tapping fees. These tapping fee rates have yet to be set, but other communities have experienced fees of well beyond $10,000 per unit. Citizens in proximity to proposed sewer lines and highly dense areas should be concerned about the probability of mandatory hook up ordinances when the time comes to pay back the debt created by this massive infrastructure. Any resident can be forced to connect to public sewer if it goes by their house.
Existing sewer problems in the Lincoln and Nottingham areas (including failing septic systems) and the needs of Borough residents and businesses should be addressed without being overshadowed by the wishes of speculative investors through permissive zoning. The sewer authority has struggled to effectively manage the existing system of infrastructure and will have the responsibility for the compounded maintenance of this sprawling new infrastructure when it is complete. We are all aware that unchecked residential development has increased our local school taxes, but other taxes will soon increase as a result of road improvements, law enforcement, and other community services that will follow this sprawling infrastructure. At what point do we put a value on our quality of life, the ability to travel through our community, and the consumption of our natural resources, as we weigh out the advancement of economic development?
A more simple solution to this ongoing sewage problem would be to focus the growth around the Borough of Oxford before extending infrastructure in many directions and taking away prime farmlands. It would seem that commercial development could be enhanced within the Borough and where designated growth has mutually been established to occur. Retirement communities should also be kept in closer proximity to the services already provided within and around the Borough. After many years of continued back and forth with DEP about this regional Act 537 plan, members of the Oxford community would be better served by focusing on the newly begun regional multi-municipal planning effort. While the end result of comprehensive planning may take 18 months or more, the direction for growth areas can be achieved through the initial meetings of our elected officials. Community consensus can also be obtained by having an open and public process throughout the planning stages.
Thank you, Oxford Tribune, for your thorough and accurate reporting.
Blair Fleischmann is a resident of Oxford