Bailiwick News – December 10, 2019

12.10.19 Bailiwick News – State College Borough Council minutes, digested

by Katherine Watt

INTRODUCTION

To provide readers with tools to understand the mechanics of local civics, I’m working on a series of digests, summarizing the contents of the State College Borough Council and Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum meeting minutes for four years (2016 through 2019). The digests will be published along with contextualizing information, structural analysis and opinion about needed reforms.

There are three basic roles Council members perform at meetings. Council members receive reports, which neither requires nor allows responsive Council action; it’s the most passive of the three roles.

Council members also discuss issues. But unless a motion is made for Council to approve or deny adoption of a resolution, the discussion is just a conversation held in front of an audience.

The only times Council members actively exercise their lawmaking and tax-and-spend power as elected officials are when formal motions are made to adopt a new law, amend an old law, or levy taxes, borrow or spend public money.

Most Borough Council meetings play out as a dialog between the Council members on one side, and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine and Borough Solicitor Terry Williams on the other side.

On virtually all public issues, Fountaine presents staff recommendations and argues, politely but firmly, for those recommendations against questioning by Council members, which is usually ill-informed and petulant.

Williams then presents the bare-bones legal argument supporting staff recommendations; it’s some version of “if you follow staff advice, you probably won’t get sued by an adversary with deep pockets.”

Council generally approves the decisions as framed by staff, presented by Fountaine and rationalized by Williams, and usually votes unanimously to do so.

In my view, this public decision-making structure is problematic, for many reasons I’ve laid out previously and will continue to lay out going forward.

For some financial context, in 2008 the State College General Fund budget was about $16,000,000. By 2016, it had increased to about $25,200,000. By this year, 2019, the General Fund budget had risen to $29,446,562. Next year (2020) it’s proposed to be $31,300,000.

It’s doubled in 12 years.

For further financial and structural context, please see the Sept. 23, 2016 and Dec. 9, 2016 issues of Bailiwick News, which provide information about municipal corporate structure, including the difference between the General Fund, other Governmental funds, and multiple Enterprise funds.

1Q2016 State College Borough Council Minutes – Digest

Jan. 4, 2016

Council members and staff wished departing members well, and greeted new members who had been elected in November 2015. Tom Daubert was elected as chairman of Borough Council.

Jan. 11, 2016

Council discussed voting rights of COG committee alternate delegates.

Council discussed Borough parking garages, and a staff proposal to fund a set of parking deck capital projects by borrowing about $6 million. Staff stated Fraser Street garage was expected to last another 30 to 40 years, and Beaver Avenue garage was expected to last another 40 years. Pugh Street garage was expected to require demolition or replacement sooner, timeframe not provided. When asked if the garages are “debt-free or indebted,” staff stated “borrowing was co-mingled for all three garages.”

Council voted (unanimously) to refer a proposed “inclusionary housing” ordinance section, which would bar developers from segregating workforce housing units from student housing units within apartment buildings, to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation.

Council voted to approve public spending of $3,283,000 for December 2015 payroll and bills.

Feb. 1, 2016

Council received a report from Tree Commission chairman Nick Kerlin about the commission’s 2016 work plan, anddiscussed tree vandalism.

Council received a report from Transportation Commission chairman Paul Rito about the commission’s 2016 work plan, and discussed bicycle lanes and the need to educate “10,000 new residents” every year about bicycle safety.

Council discussed switching to a two-year budget cycle.

Council received a staff proposal that Council approve (on Feb. 8) a $5.6 million borrowing package, including $2.2 million to update the Pugh Street Parking Garage, so as to complete nearby public infrastructure projects on the same timeline as the privately-funded Fraser Centre high-rise construction projects (to minimize disruption to area businesses). Staff stated the remaining lifespan of the Pugh Street garage was 20 years, and stated the Beaver Avenue garage cost $22 million when built 11 years ago (2005) and had since required “significant” expenditures for elevator maintenance.

Council discussed parking fund shortfalls, street parking v. garage parking, workers needs v. shoppers needs; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza project (budgeted at $846,000). Staff said $200,000 in “reserves” would be put aside for future garage repairs or a new garage.

Council discussed funding for installation of cameras in the Highlands neighborhood and other projects potentially funded by federal Community Development Block Grant money.

Susan Venegoni (private citizen) asked incisive questions about budget procedures and the timing of staff transfer of knowledge to Council members and the public.

Council discussed definitions of “special events” that qualify for increased special event parking rates, set at the Borough Manager’s discretion, including Penn State home games, Blue/White game, Arts Fest and Penn State graduation.

Council voted (unanimous) to award a contract of $354,393 to Walker Parking Consultants for “various maintenance and renovation projects” in parking structures, based on a “base fee” by the “landscape architect.”

Feb. 8, 2016

Council received a report from Planning Commission chair Mike Roeckel about the commission’s 2016 work plan, derived from 2009 Borough strategic plan.

Council received a report from Historic Resources Commission chair Erik Boeldt about the commission’s 2016 work plan, including a Historical Architectural Review Board ordinance proposal (last vetoed in 2002). Council received a report from Design Review Board chair Justin Wheeler on the commission’s 2016 work plan.

Council received a report from Redevelopment Authority chair Sally Lenker on the authority’s 2016 work plan, and an update about the Homestead Investment Program (HIP), through which the Borough was purchasing, renovating and re-selling former student rentals to convert them to owner-occupied homes for neighborhood stabilization.

Council received a report from Taser Advisory Committee chair Ron Madrid, about the work of the committee, which was established in 2015.

Council discussed the role of the Community Development Block Grant “Citizens Advisory Committee,” the anticipated retirement of Police Chief Tom King, and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine’s plan to keep King on the Borough payroll in civilian capacity after his retirement.

Susan Venegoni (private citizen) asked incisive questions about budgeting procedures.

Council voted to approve local government spending of $2,988,000 for January 2016 payroll and bills (unanimous); authorize borrowing $6,032,000 for parking garage projects (unanimous); approve reimbursement of “pre-borrowing” expenses (Resolution 1156, unanimous); approve a fund transfer between accounts for capital projects (Resolution 1157, unanimous); and authorize Borough Manager Fountaine to execute a 5-year lease of Borough streetlight poles to wireless carriers (unanimous).

March 14, 2016

Council received reports from Public Works Director Mark Whitfield, Assistant Borough Manager Roger Dunlap and other staff, about the proposed parking garage projects, a proposed $6.2 million General Obligation Bond approval vote to be held April 4 for same, and the MLK Plaza project.

Council received a report from Borough Manager Tom Fountaine about his revised organizational chart for the municipal corporation, including proposed new Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

Council received a report from Real Estate Advisory Committee chair Ron Madrid about the Homestead Investment Program, including $95,000 in “sunken costs,” the REAC recommendation to suspend new purchases of student rental homes until Dec. 31, 2016, when the three current HIP homes would hopefully be sold; the $400,000 bidding cap artificially inflating the market and triggering bidding wars; and lenders discomfort with deed restrictions barring future use of the homes for rentals.

Council discussed pending mediation between Borough and Penn State over PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement, [related to the increasing number of for-profit franchise businesses operating in the HUB, tax-exempt; Penn State’s definitions of “franchises” and “management service contracts” and how to classify – for example – the HUB Barnes & Noble, with university-related floor space and also strictly commercial floor space. See Centre County Assessment Office, Annual Penn State PILOT meeting minutes, Jan. 14, 2016.]

Council received a report from Fountaine that the regional municipal managers met recently to discuss changing the funding formula for the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA), and the fact that State College has historically paid a larger share than Patton or Ferguson, despite more riders from the townships, on the basis that increased bus use from outlying areas decreases traffic and parking congestion downtown from personal commuter vehicles.

Council heard a request from Luis Rolfo (private citizen) asking Borough Council to adopt an ordinance making marijuana possession “a civil penalty and not a criminal offense.”

Council discussed commission “work plans;” Tom Daubert expressed frustration, saying there was “no sense in Council reviewing the work plans if they could not make changes,” and asking for more information about the Redevelopment Authority’s “State College Town Center Project,” to be told simply that it’s part of the “Allen Street Civic District.”

Council voted to approve the 2016 work plans of Design Review Board, Redevelopment Authority, Historic Resources Commission, Planning Commission, Transportation Commission and Tree Commission (unanimous).

Council discussed changing the definition of “student” to exclude graduate students, related to increasing access to affordable housing; Council voted (unanimous) to take no action on changing the definition of “student” in student home zoning code provisions, to exempt PhD students, but to address the issue through the upcoming comprehensive zoning code overhaul.

Council voted to accept Planning Commission’s recommendation and “do nothing” on a proposed amendment to the inclusionary housing unit distribution requirement within the zoning ordinance (5-2 vote), related to whether developers should be compelled to disperse low-income units among all units, or could be allowed to segregate low-income tenants.

Council discussed fence standards for front yards.

The UPUA (University Park Undergraduate Association) representative announced UPUA recently passed a resolution on a Tenants Bill of Rights.

March 21, 2016

Council received a report from John Lichman, director of State College Borough Water Authority [an independent municipal authority, whose board members are appointed by Borough Council.] Lichman told Council that 60% of water for 72,000 customers is drawn from Harter and Thomas wells [under threat from then-proposed Toll Brothers/Penn State luxury student housing development] and that if the Harter-Thomas wellfields are contaminated, SCBWA would switch to “28 other wells,” and “no one would even notice.” He said SCBWA planned to replace over 108 miles of cast iron pipe over the next few years.

Council received a report from Borough Finance Director Dwight Miller, about the 2015 year-end financial report, and 2015 audits pending.

Council received a report from State College Community Land Trust President Susan Venegoni, about trust work over past 20 years to support affordable housing for lower-income households.

Council received a report from Board of Health chair William Taylor, about restaurant inspections, dog enforcement, massage and tattoo establishment inspections, sanitation compliance and school inspections.

Council received a report from Schlow Library director Cathy Alloway about library operations and usage figures.

Council members gave each other reports in their roles as municipal liaisons to/from Centre Region Council of Governments seven (7) committees: Executive, Finance, Human Resources, Parks Capital, Public Safety, Public Services & Environmental, Transportation & Land Use.

Council members gave each other reports about participation in the National League of Cities Conference.

Council members received a report about a Centre Daily Times letter co-written by Borough Manager Tom Fountaine and Penn State Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray, praising 164 local police officers (from Borough jurisdiction and campus jurisdiction) for taking diversity training.

Susan Venegoni (private citizen) asked incisive questions about the Borough budget, organizational structure, and disparate tax burden when compared to other Centre County municipalities.

Council discussed changes to the police pension program and the State College Community Land Trust.      Council voted to approve $2,939,000 in March 2016 payroll and bills. Council voted to “consent” to an announcement that Borough Manager Tom Fountaine had appointed Tom King (outgoing Police Chief) to be a new Assistant Borough Manager effective Sept. 1, 2016, under Fountaine’s independent corporate managerial authority, under the Borough charter.

Council voted (unanimous) to approve Fountaine’s creation of a new governmental department – the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services – under a new corporate organizational chart listing six major operating departments.

*    *    *

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

In my view, the most important role of local government is land use regulation to protect public health, public budgets and ecosystem commons.

Land use is currently governed by zoning laws.

I don’t advocate for communist or socialist state- ownership systems, because I think the right to own and benefit from use of private property, when exercised by individuals and families, is a crucial component of individual liberty, and I think individual liberty is a bedrock principle of the American experiment.

I also think worker ownership of business enterprises is a good idea; essayist John Michael Greer refers to it as “democratic syndicalism” in his work.

I think ownership and control of private property by investment corporations, especially at present, with their extraordinary access to cheap credit, is unethical.

And at present, given the high pollution and system-support loads our shared living ecosystems are burdened with, I don’t think private property owners of any scale are entitled to put additional burdens on the commons: clean air and water, publicly-owned and operated water and sewage conveyance and treatment systems, publicly-maintained roads, and historically-productive agricultural fields and forests.

If someone buys or owns an intact ecosystem, whether farm, pasture, wetland or forest, he or she should be prepared to tend it, and should have no recourse to rezoning to convert it to ecologically-burdensome uses.

However, the preemptive land use law we’ve inherited privileges private profit for corporate investors at public expense, ecological expense, and at the personal expense of individual-, family- and worker-owners, by degrading and destroying our shared ecological commons, and by inflating land prices to boot.

Preemptive land use law is at the heart of state and federal usurpation of local self-governing autonomy.

For more detail about the mechanics of the tyranny, below is a reprint from a legal guide for Albemarle County, Virginia, about land use law and the four types of power municipal legislators must work within, despite having no way to meaningfully consent to those limits on their own behalf as free individuals or on behalf of the constituencies they represent. The zoning acronyms are slightly different in Pennsylvania, but the legal principles are the same.

At the most restrictive level are “ministerial” acts, in which the local elected government has no discretion at all. Appointed municipal staff take the action, by signing a contract or granting a permit, for example, in compliance with state or federal rules.

Next are “administrative acts,” in which the local elected government or its delegees may exercise limited discretion by applying standards to a given set of facts: approving a variance, for example.

Then there are “legislative” acts. Within limits set by state and federal governments, local elected government can make general policy decisions that establish rules of conduct by, for example, adopting or amending zoning ordinances.

This is the most useful of the current tools available to communities. It could, for example, be used to adopt a comprehensive overlay zoning district requiring all development proposals to prove they will have no adverse impact on existing ecosystems and public service budgets to gain approval, enshrining the precautionary principle in locally-enforceable law.

The fourth type of local governmental act is the quasi-judicial act, in which local officials interpret legislative policies with regard to individual land development projects. The interpretation is discretionary to a limited extent; the policies being interpreted are not.

In my view, this system is broken and in need of reform, because it largely strips the electorate and our elected representatives of our human dignity and the self-governing autonomy we need to shape and protect the human character and living ecosystems of our communities.

Opportunity to weigh in on Interim Mayor appointment

Press release from State College Borough is below, with links to online comment forms and the C-NET video of the candidate presentations.

Readers interested in supporting or opposing my candidacy (or any of the other candidates) for the Interim Mayor appointment strongly urged to click through and share thoughts with Borough Council.

Council will be selecting the Interim Mayor at the Dec. 16, 2019 Borough Council meeting.

Thanks!

-KW

Borough Council Wants Your Feedback on Interim Mayor Selection Process

State College, PA – State College Borough Council is currently in the process of selecting an Interim Mayor. Council wants to ensure the community is engaged during this process and are asking if the public has any comments or questions. The public can submit their comments and questions via this form on Engage State College.

At the September 9, 2019 meeting of Council, Mayor Donald M. Hahn officially announced his intention to resign as Mayor effective as of 5:00 p.m. on December 16, 2019, due to his election of the office of Magisterial District Justice.

In accordance with State College’s Home Rule Charter, Council has 45 days from the occurrence of this vacancy to appoint an Interim Mayor to serve out the remainder of Mayor Hahn’s term, two years.

The Home Rule Charter does not require letters of interest, interviews, or discussions; however, Borough Council reached an agreement on the process to appoint an Interim Mayor. This included a period where interested residents could apply to be mayor. All of the applicants that were qualified to hold office then presented to Council at the Tuesday, December 3, Special Meeting. Those presentations are available on-demand via C-Net and the URL listed below.

COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS FORM

C-NET VIDEO OF INTERIM MAYOR APPLICANTS’ PRESENTATIONS

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Douglas Shontz at (814)-278-4723 or email at dshontz@statecollegepa.us.

Bailiwick News – December 4, 2019

12.4.19 Bailiwick News – Interim Mayor appointment presentation

By Katherine Watt

Reprint of presentation given to State College Borough Council on Dec. 3, 2019

  1. Grew up in Allentown, Penn State philosophy degree 1996, reporter and paralegal, married, husband and I have two kids, we moved to Borough in 2008, bought 1945 house in Highlands in 2014.
  2. Learned, in 2005, about the tight connection of cheap fossil fuels, rising debt levels, economic growth, complex, centralized supply chains, and modern standard of living, and how those can all be thrown into reverse when fossil fuels and debt become expensive, destroying supply chains and reducing standard of living.
  3. Changed the direction of my life, focusing it on community organizing around protecting local water and soil, localizing supply chains and increasing local skill-sets and self-governing autonomy to increase redundancy and resilience.
  4. Worked last 15 years in various aspects of same, and will continue. North Plainfield (NJ) Citizens for Community Rights, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Transition Town State College, Spring Creek Homesteading Fund, Sustainable Centre County page at Centre Daily Times, Stop the PSU/Columbia Gas Pipeline, Save State College Water Supply/Toll Brothers/PSU, Voices of Central PA, Owl & Turtle Press, Bailiwick News/KW Investigations LLC, Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, Stop Nestle, Friends & Farmers Cooperative, Feel Goodery Foods, Stacy Parks Miller and Centre County prosecutorial and judicial corruption.
  5. I want to bring that perspective, way of framing public problems and developing public responses, into local government policy and funding discussions. I do not plan to run for Mayor in 2021. I ran for Borough Council 2019 as an independent, and was encouraged by the results, even though I didn’t win a seat, so I do plan to run for Borough Council again in 2021.
  6. I have experience running meetings as board member of local civic organizations, have been told I’m good at it – I respect participants’ time sacrifice to be present, I keep group on-task, I shut down redundant comments and I draw out dissenting views to reduce groupthink risks. I find it demanding but worthwhile, because I pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal communication of the people in the room and around the table.
  7. I understand the “Strong Council-Weak Mayor” form of government, although I think it’s actually “Strong Manager-Strong Solicitor-Weak Council-Weak Mayor.” In any case, I know the Mayor doesn’t have a vote on Council, and that his or her veto can be overridden with a two-thirds majority. But he or she does have a voice.
  8. There’s really only one scenario in which it would make sense for Council to appoint me, and not one of the other candidates. That call depends on current Council’s understanding of the historical moment we’re in. In my view, we’ve been in a slow-moving, long economic disaster that started in the 1970s, was papered over with massive amounts of public and private debt, took another leg down in 2008, was papered over with more debt, and we’re now on the brink of another leg down that curve. From that perspective, a main role of local government is to help communities manage the disaster at the local level, and if that’s the case, I’d be a useful addition to the local government team, well-equipped to a) advocate for the views outlined at right below – which I think reflect reality more accurately than the alternative views, b) draw into the conversation more voices proposing a broader diversity of responses to our shared community challenges and c) help expand the range of self-governing movement available to us. If this Council is not there yet, don’t appoint me. I won’t be a useful addition to the local government team.  But if your views change as world events unfold over the next few years, please know that I’ll be around if you want my input on anything, whether in or out of government.
COLUMN A (STANDARD) COLUMN B (NON-STANDARD)
IF YOU THINK THAT:  IF YOU THINK THAT:
2008 Great Financial Crisis ended, because the stock market has been rising ever since… 2008 Great Financial Crisis is still going on, and has been papered over with Federal Reserve quantitative easing, which has printed new money and handed it corporations to buy back their own stocks to push up their stock prices without any improvement in their actual earnings, inflating a new “everything” asset bubble even larger than the housing bubble that partially deflated in 2008…
Unemployment and inflation statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are plausible, and we have record low unemployment at just under 4% and low inflation at about 2%…

 

Government has “adjusted” the unemployment statistics to meaninglessness, by not counting people who have given up looking for work and people who are part-time because they can’t find full-time employment. Taking those people back into account, the unemployment rate is 21%; and government has “adjusted” inflation statistics to meaninglessness, by excluding data that was used to calculate cost of living up until 1980 to reduce COLA and other obligations. Using the 1980 calculation method, inflation is just under 10%.
There’s plenty of oil and gas still to recover at prices consumers and businesses can afford, and prices that allow oil and gas companies to be profitable, so oil and gas corporations are in good financial shape for additional discovery, drilling and delivery for the next several decades at least… We’re coming to the end of the shale boom driven by fracking, which has exceptionally high production decline rates and “sweet spots” as compared to conventional oil and gas; oil and gas corporations have funded it to date with debt, not with sales because of depressed prices because of the initial production glut; so they’ve scaled back discovery and drilling and many are now going bankrupt; and investors are losing appetite for supplying more funds with little chance of ever seeing returns…
The student loan debt gravy train will continue unabated, and students and their families will continue to willingly take out huge loans for college education… The student loan debt bubble will pop or deflate, lenders will dramatically reduce the loans they’re willing to extend, potential borrowers will decide to forego loans and look for other, more affordable pathways to employment…
Lack of affordable local housing is a function of lack of new construction, and that college students should live in privately-owned, luxury apartment complexes at $900 per bed…

 

Lack of affordable housing is a function of Penn State’s policy of increasing student enrollment and cutting side deals with private real estate investment corporations to build luxury student housing for exorbitant profits, and that college students should live in basic dormitories and standard apartments, as most of them did until just a couple of decades ago, when real estate investment firms and university administrators discovered the gusher of student loan financing that would flow to them if they coordinated with each other to build and market luxury housing and expand enrollment to fill it…
High cost of tuition is a function of increases in the basic costs of staffing and operating an educational institution… High cost of tuition is a function of luxury capital projects and expansion of the ranks of middle-management administrative deans and vice-presidents who add no educational value…
Penn State leaders must continue to grow enrollment, build expensive new facilities and luxury dorms, manage massive investment portfolios, and expand the ranks of its administrative middle-managers to “compete” for students… Penn State leaders can and should, suspend all new construction projects; focus on maintaining existing building stock; reduce undergraduate enrollment to at most 30,000; and reduce administrative deans through vice-presidents by at least 50% to cut tuition and housing costs for the entire community – students and workers…
Corporate Penn State is indistinguishable from academic Penn State, and that as a unit, they’re a benevolent educational and economic engine for the region and state…

 

 

Corporate Penn State has metastasized into an overwhelmingly powerful, unelected, malignant, hybrid public-private corporate profiteering machine, and is a controlling force shaping Centre Region public life with neither accountability nor transparency, with neither voting shareholders nor a citizen electorate choosing its governing board, such that it requires an aggressive, strong, boundary-setting counterforce working for the people of the town, represented by the elected Borough Council and Mayor…
Corporate Penn State is a good faith, negotiating partner on public affairs, and that its exemptions from taxation and transparency are legitimate… Corporate Penn State is a bad faith negotiating partner on public affairs, and that its exemptions from taxation and transparency are the unjust result of a $6.5 billion annual budget Goliath stomping on myriad local Davids, who work with a tiny fraction of the University’s financial, legal and political resources…
State and federal regulators do a good job of protecting the interests of the public in clean air, water and soil… State and federal regulators do a good job of protecting the interests of private corporations in using public air, water and soil as disposal sites, so local communities need to step up and levy their own self-protective measures…
LEED certification on new construction is a good way to promote local environmental sustainability… Placing a moratorium on new construction – because it paves over intact ecosystems while increasing population pressure on food, water, sewer, transit and other public services, and promoting of Victory gardens and urban farms are good ways to promote local human and ecosystem resilience…
Corporate Penn State implemented effective reforms in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, sufficient to reduce the odds of a similar scandal hitting the university again… Corporate Penn State avoided implementing key reforms in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, especially transparency, accountability and governance reforms, so that there’s still nothing in place to prevent a repeat of criminal investigations for incidents taking place on PSU campuses, being stopped by police administrators who are accountable only to their corporate employer (PSU), not the public…
COG’s record of being in operation for 50 years without rules for binding financial votes is okay, and that the 2019 measure to address that lapse in procedure, in which “No minutes are taken and individual votes are not recorded” is also fine… It’s not okay for COG to have operated for 50 years without clear rules for holding public officials accountable for their votes committing municipal tax dollars to regional programs; State College should withdraw from COG due to its inherent illegitimacy; and as interim reform, the COG Articles of Agreement and Rules Governing Unit Votes should be amended to require all votes – whether for the full General Forum or the units, be roll call and recorded in minutes…
Towns are corporations, subordinate to unchallengeable state and federal legislative and judicial control; Borough Council is a corporate board of directors; Tom Fountaine is a CEO; residents are a hybrid customer-shareholder, and that that’s working fine… Towns are communities of independent citizens with free will, and need maximum local flexibility to deal creatively with local challenges, even to the point that – if we-the-people who live here now want a different form of self-government than the one we’ve inherited from the people who came before us, we have an absolute right to abolish the current form of government and create a new one that meets our current needs, whether the state and federal governments consent or not…
It’s okay for local legislators to unquestioningly follow the directives of municipal solicitor, to avoid drawing litigation by private actors… It’s state-sanctioned, masked extortion for municipal solicitors to tell local legislators how they must vote to avoid litigation, effectively negating their exercise of free will, individual conscience and right to refuse consent…
Establishing paid fire and EMS services and expanded police force should be funded with higher property taxes or income taxes on State College residents… Establishing paid fire and EMS services should be funded with property taxes on Penn State property in the Borough (up to $3.8 million a year); and/or a $100 per student local public services impact fee for 46,000 undergraduates (up to $4.6 million per year) and/or a $10 per seat impact fee for 742,000 Penn State football tickets per season (106,000 x 7 games) = up to $7.4 million per year…
The Municipalities Planning Code and local zoning ordinances provide sufficient flexibility and enforcement strength for local populations to steer the character and scale of their community where they want to go… The MPC is preemptive, and local populations need case-by-case flexibility and enforcement strength to shape the character and scale of their own communities…
THEN you would be better-served to appoint someone else as interim mayor. THEN you would be well-served to appoint me as interim mayor, because I’d make a very useful addition to the local government team.

Bailiwick News – December 3, 2019

12.3.19 Bailiwick News – NVEC Letter to Pa. DEP requesting public hearing on Penn State’s plan to add a Combustion Turbine-Heat Recovery Steam Generation unit to the West Campus Steam Plant in downtown State College.

By David Stone, on behalf of Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition

For further reference, see DEP’s proposed plan approval, reprinted in the Nov. 14, 2019 edition of Bailiwick News, at pp. 3-4.

To: Muhammad Zaman, Environmental Program Manager, PA Department of Environmental Protection, Air Quality Division, North Central Regional Office, Williamsport – mzaman@pa.gov

Re: TVOP – 14-00003K

Dear Mr. Zaman:

The Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition (NVEC) requests that DEP hold a public hearing in State College regarding this West Campus Steam Plant (WCSP) combustion turbine permit application.

NVEC is an incorporated 501(c)4 organization whose members will be adversely affected by this proposed approval.

Furthermore, as a non-profit organization formed specifically to support local community environmental and due process rights guaranteed by the Pa. Constitution and our local municipal  Environmental Charter  Bill of Rights,  we contend that DEP should schedule this public hearing as the legally mandated next step to ensure that DEP, NVEC, State College Borough, and other affected parties can reasonably assess the need for any further action.

On the face of it, the combustion turbine (combined heat and power/CHP) application itself shows that tons of pollutants are being added to the already heavily polluted downtown streets adjacent to new student high-rises towering up to 65 feet above the existing stacks.

NVEC members’ past participation has already prompted verifiable industry-wide computer modeling by a national developer, the Borough, our own expert, and even Penn State itself which demonstrates an increase in local pollution hotspots; as compared with the pre-gas conversion situation.

That coal-burning configuration, although deprecated in the context of overall regional air quality, had at least included a locally very effective baghouse filter and 199-foot stacks.

There is even a relevant Penn State study which shows that the fracked gas supply as actually delivered to Penn State contains radionuclides which exceed the level in the traditional gas supply; and already exit the existing East Campus Steam Plant (ECSP) stacks in detectable amounts.

This, in combination with the usual volatile organic compounds (VOCs), condensable particulates – and in fact all particulate matter (PM or fine particulates) – pose immediate health risks to the tens of thousands of students, and other residents, who live in, or visit, our downtown.

It is our position that DEP and Penn State, as Instrumentalities of the Commonwealth, are required to give “extra scrutiny” to this demonstrated air quality issue.

But there have been significant problems so far which have short-circuited such scrutiny and due process.

For instance, during the municipal comment period, State College Borough Council unanimously requested just such a public hearing, and indicated its serious concerns about the combustion turbine application as it relates to the downtown air quality situation.

It is our understanding that Council directed staff to resubmit this hearing request during the current public comment period which ends Dec 2.

It is our belief that further action to reinforce this request, and convey more specific concerns, would have been taken by Council; except for the fact that the DEP response letter was received Nov. 12 and the next voting Council meeting was Dec. 2, just after the close of business deadline for this comment period.

It is our understanding that in its interactions with Borough staff, DEP may have gotten a mistaken impression about the Borough’s resolve to pursue these matters.

A local public hearing amicably resolves any such discrepancy.

We also should inform you that Penn State has now, perhaps in anticipation of easy DEP approval, refused to continue to provide NVEC’s volunteer expert and the Borough with the data from PSU’s recent air quality modeling so as to allow us, and the Borough, to cross-check the modeling analysis which the University uses to justify not providing additional mitigations such as a higher stack and additional monitoring.

It should be noted that the Borough has already required funding from an adjacent high-rise developer to install one monitor.

A public hearing would help solidify and co-ordinate expansion of this limited monitoring capability with DEP and PSU.

Finally, there is a rather intricate historical narrative involving  NVEC members and the Borough which must be reviewed by DEP staff in order to determine whether illegitimate “phasing” has been used in this application process; starting with the original conversion to gas, and the proposed lowering of the stacks from about 199 feet to 86 feet.

It should be noted that as a result of our extensive participation in that first phase several years ago, the stack was raised from a proposed 86-foot height to the current 99-foot height, and PSU agreed to voluntarily close Boiler #6.

This was in addition to negotiating a voluntary change in the high-pressure gas line route and significant increased physical security for certain vulnerable infrastructure.

It is disconcerting to us now that PSU is, in effect, claiming the closing of Boiler 6 as part of the offset for this supposedly independent CHP project many years later.

It had been our contention, as conveyed in extensive comments filed with DEP at that time, that the impacts of this planned CHP should have been analyzed as part of that original gas conversion.

We argued that it was the prospect of this eventual combustion turbine at the West Campus Steam Plant (WCSP) which unduly constrained PSU from implementing additional mitigations because of building layout space constraints, among other things.

In fact, PSU, in order to avoid extra scrutiny of the phasing issue – and to stay just under certain regulatory limits which would have triggered additional studies and mitigation requirements; ostensibly dropped the combustion turbine plan at that time.

However, we now see that that was just a tactic to avoid holistic DEP regulation of the complete project.

Classic “phasing” in fact.

Some other concerns as identified by our expert witness:

  • VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions from the two (2) 25,000-gallon above-ground fuel oil storage tanks are not accounted for in the air permit application or Plan Approval limitations.  Due to the size of tanks and firing capacity of combustion units, the tanks will experience many overturns even with limitation of 384 hours per year.
  • NOx (nitrogen oxides) monitoring is not robust enough to ensure compliance with 39.9 limit which was taken to avoid Federal New Source Review permitting. See Section D, I, #003, a), i).  The permitted NOx limit is 99.75% of the 40-tpy (tons per year) New Source Review Significant Emission Rate.
  • BAT (best available technology) limits under Section D, I, #003, a) should also be separately established for the Combustion Turbine and Duct Burner.  BAT should address each operational scenario outlined for emissions testing in Section D., II, #010, d.
  • Pursuant to Section D., II, #011 and #012, emissions testing is required at or near peak load, but operation at other loads when SoLowNOx is not in optimum operation may lead to higher emissions that won’t be captured with annual emissions testing and monthly emissions calculations.  Due to this project’s avoidance of Federal New Source Review and identified local air quality issues, a continuous emissions monitoring system should be utilized.
  • Section B, #10 of the Plan Approval prohibits “phasing” of projects.  However, the phasing of this project is not sufficiently addressed as it relates to the overall West Campus Steam Plant Conversion Project that was recently permitted.
  • The proposed Plan Approval does not include the following condition which has been in other PADEP Plan Approvals: “[25 Pa. Code §127.12b] Plan approval terms and conditions. Nothing in this Plan Approval relieves the facility owner or operator from the obligation to comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

A public hearing is required to facilitate the resolution and/or mitigation of these concerns.