History/Chronology of Past Issues:
The White Township Supervisors develop a plan to log White’s Woods Nature Center. Logging would remove 650,000 board feet with an estimated value of $159,000 in the first phase of a multiphase plan. However, Second Class Township code section 1915 states
“Whenever the township supervisors deem it expedient to sell or leases any forest, or part thereof, or products therefrom, they shall so declare by an ordinance… No ordinance shall be effective in legalizing such alienation until it has been approved by a majority vote of the people…”
The Supervisors survey voters to find that 62% (1527 of the 2463 total respondents) did NOT want White’s Woods selectively timbered (31% approved of the timbering plan while 7% had no opinion). The Supervisors vote not to timber on July 12, 1995.
November 9, 1995
The above township code is amended and renumbered to 2207(f) to read as follows (major deletions in brackets and major additions underlined):
“When the board of supervisors decides to sell or lease any township forest, or part thereof, [or products therefrom] it shall so declare by an ordinance… No ordinance shall be effective until it has been approved by a majority vote of the electorate… Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit the board of supervisors, at its discretion, by resolution, from allowing the selective harvesting of forest products for the purpose of properly caring for and maintaining a township forest.”
Note that the effect of the deletion plus addition is to allow “harvesting of forest products” without consulting the public.
May 10, 2006
The White Township Supervisors began a hiring search for a forester who could develop a plan for selective timbering in parts of the municipality.
March 28, 2007
A plan to log White’s Woods is presented to the Supervisors. This is the first indication that White’s Woods is the target of the timbering plan. No other “parts of the municipality” are mentioned in the presentation. Logging would remove 550,000 board feet with the estimated value of $166,000 as part of a continuing cycle. Note the similarity to the 1995 plan.
April - June, 2007
The details of the logging plan are presented and discussed at several Supervisors’ meetings. Citizens present raise numerous objections.
May 9, 2007
The Borough of Indiana expresses reservations and asks that timbering be delayed until a “truly representative plan can be developed for the Nature Center that takes into account all those elements necessary for the long-term benefit of the public at large.” The Supervisors never respond to the letter.
The Supervisors phone a since-retired DCNR Bureau of Forestry forester and orally discuss the plan to log White’s Woods. The Supervisors claim they have the approval of DCNR based on this contact (stated at the June 11, 2007 public meeting, see below). However, letters from DCNR state they “…did not make a ruling regarding White’s Woods” (DCNR letter of November 6, 2007 ) and “DCNR has no records of a request for a ruling” (DCNR letter of November 14, 2007). Thus it is unclear what was communicated and in any case, the communication is not acknowledged by DCNR.
June 11, 2007
In response to a wide-spread and persistent outcry from the citizenry, the Supervisors hold a Public Commentary meeting to allow citizens comments. However, because required procedures to advertise the meeting were not followed, the meeting was illegal.
June 13, 2007
In spite of all the expressed concerns, the Supervisors adopt the logging plan. However, they note that they have no “intention” of initiating logging soon and indicate a willingness to discuss the possibility of transferring ownership of White’s Woods to a regional conservancy. The Township relied on a statement that a “favorable ruling” from the DCNR was given – however, as noted above (see Summer, 2007) DCNR states that a ruling was neither made nor requested.
June 27, 2007
Friends of White’s Woods (FWW) notifies the Supervisors that it is willing to work together to find a land trust or conservancy to buy White’s Woods.
July 25, 2007
The Supervisors are notified by DCNR that any proceeds from the sale of White’s Woods could only be used for recreation or conservation purposes. The Supervisors vote 4:1 for a motion stating White’s Woods is not for sale at this time.
FWW retains attorney Richard Watling of Keevican Weiss, Bauerle & Hirsch LLC, Pittsburgh. Mr. Watling has expertise in land-use and development and public property/park stewardship issues in addition to having served as an attorney for cities and municipalities.
August 30, 2007
FWW sends a letter (available at www.friendsofwhiteswoods.org) to the White Township Supervisors. The letter expresses our concerns about the wisdom and legality of logging White’s Woods and suggests several possible resolutions.
The legal arguments are:
White’s Woods was purchased with “Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act” of 1964 monies with the stipulation that such lands may only “be utilized for recreation, conservation, and historical purposes, and contribute to meet the recreation or conservation needs of the community.” 72 P.S. § 3946.18(c). This land has been used exclusively for such purposes since with some development of gas wells and the maintenance of utility lines (as allowed by law).
Project 70 (section 20(b)) further states that “No lands acquired with funds made available under this act shall be disposed of or used for purposes other than those prescribed in this act without the express approval of the General Assembly…Should the provisions of this act… be willfully violated… the governing body… [shall]… reimburse the Commonwealth… plus six per cent interest compounded semi-annually…” In 1974 White Township was found in violation of Project 70 and had to pay penalties, administrative and legal costs.
The deeds to the parkland specifically restrict usage to “recreation, conservation and historical purposes” as required by law or as a “perpetual public park, recreation, and open space...” The binding nature of such deed restrictions have been upheld in Commonwealth courts.
The Supervisors justify the legality of logging White’s Woods with reference to Section 2207 Forest Lands of the Second Class Township Code enacted in 1995. The code states townships may acquire forests and administer them under rules that “… have for their main purpose the producing of a continuing township revenue by the sale of forest products.” Further the code states that “Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit the board of supervisors, at its discretion, by resolution, from allowing the selective harvesting of forest products for the purpose of properly caring for and maintaining a township forest.” However, they failed to note that Section 2207 also states the following:
A township “may acquire by purchase, gift or lease…” forest tracts and “it shall so declare by an ordinance, setting forth all facts and conditions relating to the proposed action.” Thus the code refers to new acquisitions (White’s Woods was purchased from 1968-1974) and explicitly requires an acquisition procedure which was not followed.
After acquisition, the supervisors must “notify the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources [DCNR] which may make rules for the government and proper administration of the land” and DCNR “shall publish the rules, declare the uses of the forest under the intent of this article and make provision for its administration, maintenance, protection and development as necessary.” While an oral communication with a now-retired DCNR forester did occur, this does not approach the level of consultation and decision making required (1) under Project 70 to change the land’s status or (2) under the Second Class Township Code to designate Township property as a forest. There is no record of a more formal (written) DCNR ruling prior to adoption of the logging plan (or even a request for such a ruling; letters from DCNR dated November 6, 2007 and November 14, 2007).
In summary, the Supervisors retroactively and informally deemed a park to be a revenue producing forest in violation of both Project 70 law used to purchase White’s Woods and restrictions in all of the parkland’s deeds. They justified this action using township code 2207 which they both misinterpreted (it applies to lands specifically acquired and designated for forestry purposes, not parks) and did not follow (they did not set forth the reasons for the acquisition by ordinance nor did they consult DCNR as required -- DCNR letters of November 6 and 14, 2007).
Possible resolutions include:
The Township continues to own and manage White’s Woods but with a management plan that includes input from park (as opposed to forestry) management experts.
The Township continues to own White’s Woods but the park is managed by a regional conservancy in coordination with the Indiana Area Recreation and Parks Commission and DCNR.
Both ownership and management be transferred to a regional conservancy.
FWW hoped that dialogue would allow us to explore these and perhaps other mutually beneficial outcomes. Further, to create an atmosphere free of external pressures and thus appropriate for good-faith negotiations, FWW suggested that the letter and any additional communications be held confidential.
November 7, 2007
The Supervisors ask a DCNR Bureau of Forestry forester for his review of the White’s Woods Timbering plan. The forester is the temporary replacement for the since retired forester contacted in summer, 2007 (see above). It is unclear why the Supervisors would contact the same office a second time given earlier claims that this office had already approved the plan.
November 30, 2007
FWW releases the August 30, 2007 letter send to the Supervisors. Unfortunately, three months had passed without response from the Supervisors. FWW’s attorney did initiate one communication during which the Township Solicitor stated that he had not heard of FWW (in spite of the fact that the Supervisors’ minutes of September 12, 2007 acknowledge receipt of our letter).
FWW released the letter because the many concerned citizens of White Township and surrounding communities deserved an update on the potential logging of their park. We further hoped that publicizing the issue would encourage the Supervisors to discuss these matters.
December 2, 2007
In response to the FWW news release, Supervisor Overdorff asks citizens to be patient as the Board waits for a second review of the logging plan (from the local office of DCNR Bureau of Forestry, see November 7, 2007 above). However, any review by foresters of a plan to timber a forest ignores the outstanding issue -- A park requires a plan focused on the recreation and conservation goals of a park. Further, the legal issues cannot be addressed by a forester.
January, 17, 2008
The White Township Supervisors request, in writing, that DCNR review the timbering plan (White Township letter of January 17, 2008). They also request
“… comment from DCNR regarding the Department’s understanding of the purpose and function of Section 2207 and, more specifically, subsection (f) of Section 2207 which states that…. ‘Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit the board of supervisors, at its discretion, by resolution, from allowing the selective harvesting of forest products for the purpose of properly caring for and maintaining a township forest.” (Township Letter of January 17, 2008).
Note that the latter request is for a ruling on the legality of timbering White’s Woods. As noted above (see August 30, 2007 – legal arguments), the Supervisors argue that Section 2207 gives them the right to timber township “forest” without consulting the community. However, according to the code they can only do so after consulting DCNR. A full six months after adopting a plan to timber (June 13, 2007), the Supervisors are initiating the required DCNR consultation.
February 8, 2008
DCNR responds to the January 17, 2008 letter (see DCNR letter of February 8, 2008). They note that the timbering plan “… does not meet the minimum requirements to be considered a Forest Stewardship Plan.” They further state that DCNR’s counsel advises “… Section 2207 of the Second Class Township Code… does not apply to the matter of the forest management plan for White’s Woods.”
February 27, 2008
The Supervisors send a follow-up letter to DCNR (White Township letter of February 27, 2008) and request
“…input concerning the selective cutting proposal and how its implementation may be impacted by any restrictions placed on the property by Project 70 funding. More specifically, does implementation of the enclosed Forest Stewardship and Management Plan for White’s Woods violate any restrictions of the Project 70 agreement?”
Thus DCNR has clearly and unequivocally stated that (1) the legal basis for declaring WW a township forest (2207 code)“does not apply” and (2) the current timbering plan is inadequate for a forest, never mind a park (DCNR letter of February 8, 2008). Further, the Township Supervisors having recognized that Section 2207 code does not provide legal support for the timbering plan, now want to know if the plan is consistent with Project 70’s emphasis on “recreation, conservation and historical preservation.” But how can a plan developed with a view to revenue generation (see August 30, 2007 notes) fulfill the “recreation and conservation” purpose of Project 70 funded White’s Woods?
March 7, 2008
FWW representatives attempt privately to open lines of communication with the Supervisors. FWW offers to help involve the community in the development of a park plan under the guidance of applicable Project 70 law. The Township rejects the offer.
April 10, 2008
DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation responds to the Supervisors query as to whether the logging plan violates any Project 70 restrictions. The letter states:
“The plan is not consistent with the Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act… is not consistent with the definitions of recreation and conservation in the Act… The issue is not whether timber can be harvested on Project 70 land, but rather that the amount, as currently proposed, is excessive.”
DCNR goes on to state that the plan should be revised and submitted for approval prior to any logging and that any proceeds must be reinvested in White’s Woods or other Township parks. DCNR cited several publications for guidance in the revision. It is notable that one publication (Timber Harvesting in Pennsylvania: Information for Citizens and Local Government Officials, http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/uh097.pdf) has a section entitled “Involve the community” which speaks of consultation and cooperation with community groups as key to avoiding conflicts over timbering plans.
Thus DCNR has ruled a second time that the plan is deeply flawed. Not only does the plan call for “excessive” timbering for a park, but it is inconsistent with the recreation and conservation purpose of the park. Further, DCNR now insists that any revised plan be approved by them prior to implementation. Clearly the plan requires a major revision. In fact the preferred approach would be to abandon the current plan, consult with the community to determine their goals for White’s Woods and create a new plan based on those shared goals.
April 12, 2020
White Township is managing White’s Woods without public comment or involvement.
Sections of mature trees in White’s Woods have been marked with green dots to be timbered and removed from the forest beginning as soon as early summer 2020. White Township claims that this is all part of a management plan to remove invasive species and improve forest health and safety.
However, the management plan has not been made available to the public as of April 12, 2020. Additionally, this activity is happening during a global pandemic when members of the public have been asked to shelter at home, unable to attend White Township Board of Supervisors meetings.