Since this blog is essentially the only media coverage of Nether Providence Township meetings, there are two topics from last week’s meeting that warrant further discussion.
Covanta’s Chester Incinerator
The first is the Covanta incinerator in Chester. Built in 1992, the incinerator in Chester is one of the largest and oldest in the nation, with less pollution controls than most other incinerators in the country. It is no coincidence that CRCQL, an activist group working to reduce pollution in Chester City, also formed in 1992. Over the years, they’ve opposed several polluting facilities in the city of Chester, with notable successes. Currently the group is circulating a resolution among Delaware County municipalities to ask the county to end its contract with the incinerator. Swarthmore Borough passed this resolution last week, but Nether Providence did not act on it. The county’s contract with the incinerator could be renewed as early as May, so quick action is needed.
Approximately 1/3 of the trash burned in Chester City comes from Delaware County, with most of the rest shipped in from New York City and Philadelphia. The incinerator is a major source of pollution in the region. The resulting ash from the burned trash is then landfilled in the county’s landfill. The ash from the incinerator contains heavy metals, nitrous oxide, and other hazards that contribute to the region’s air pollution and the high levels of asthma and cancer among nearby residents. The heavy metals also collect in the soil, making it toxic for gardening. The landfilled ash is highly toxic and can seep into water systems, making the region’s water also toxic.
Covanta pays the City of Chester somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.3 million dollars a year as a community impact fee, a significant part of the city’s budget. The City of Chester has lobbied in favor of waste contracts for Covanta as a way to raise funds in the past – I’ve read the impact fee is the fourth largest source of income for the city. But the incinerator generates <10 jobs for city residents, so the impact fee is pretty much the only positive for the city of Chester. And as a source of energy, the incinerator is neither cost effective nor clean – far worse than coal power plants.
The board of commissioners didn’t act on the resolution primarily because they don’t want to take this source of revenue away from our neighboring municipality. But this is a weak argument, and the case for asking the county to end the contract is far stronger.
For the children who will suffer from a lifetime of asthma and residents undergoing rounds of cancer treatment, how important is the solvency of the City of Chester? Why does anyone think it should be acceptable for a poor community of color to fund necessary services at the price of their health? This is barbaric racism. The resolution considered by the township asked the county to find new ways to fund Chester City services instead of expecting the city to sell the health of its citizens. Also of note, it is the citizens of Chester City asking us to adopt this resolution, this is not something we’re imposing on them.
The other argument for passing this resolution is that this does affect us here in Nether Providence, we do have a stake – especially those of us here in Garden City. Air pollution doesn’t magically stop at the Chester border. We are all also paying the price – in toxic air, land, and water – for this contract. And, of course, as usual it falls on the lowest income residents of our township – those in Garden City – to pay the heaviest price due to our relative proximity.
So for those of you in Nether Providence who read this, please reach out to your friends and neighbors and ask the township to act on this. And, if you can in the meantime, please throw away less trash. Maybe consider a composting service?
Loans for Roads
The second issue I want to raise is a basic good government matter. The township commissioners discussed taking out a loan to pave more roads this year. Interest rates are very low, so its enticing for commissioners to solve the road problems residents complain of by borrowing.
Taking on debt for maintenance costs is a poor idea. Road maintenance is an on-going cost. There will always be more roads in need of work as the winter takes its toll each year. Aqua and the utilities will dig them up as needed as well. Roads are not the sort of thing that you fix once and they’re done – they require continual maintenance. If the township residents want roads in better condition, we should be willing to pay the ongoing cost – not shift it onto future residents to pay for our roads now.
However, if the commissioners do want to take advantage of the low interest rates offered, there are many capital projects available. In my article on Hepford Park, I mentioned there was once a community day care in Garden City Manor. How awesome would it be to acquire the Comcast property and create such a facility right across from Nether Providence Elementary to serve the low-income residents in the area? Or another idea, in the Summit School Commission they raised the idea of a community center being built. Something with meeting rooms, an indoor basketball court that could be used as a theater, a concession for the nearby fields, bathrooms….There are so many possibilities. Due to climate change, flooding due to runoff has become an increasing problem here and the township is required to reduce runoff by the state. There are capital projects to resolve these issues that could be funded with a loan.
These kinds of capital improvements would provide an enduring benefit to future residents that will be paying the costs of borrowing. And, as I noted recently these projects could bring our community together and we are in desperate need of bringing our community back together.