DICKINSON TOWNSHIP — Looking out across her farm, Michelle Line sees the family’s fields, cows and a treeline.
The approximately 110-acre farm along Ritner Highway has been in the family since 1778. Interstate 81 cuts through the original farm, and Michelle says the Line family has pushing back against encroaching development since the highway was built.
If developer Goodman Birtcher’s plans for a nearly 2-million-square-foot warehouse are successful, she will see fields, cows and the giant wall of a warehouse.
As do many other residents who fill meeting rooms over the issue at both Dickinson Township and Carlisle Borough, Line opposes the construction of the warehouse near the Exit 44 interchange of I-81 for many reasons.
Judy Brough, a resident of southern Dickinson Township, said the opponents’ fight against the warehouse development transcends a single project at a specific location. “I hope that we can be a model for other communities to say no, we don’t want any more,” she said.
The blight on her viewshed isn’t the top of Line’s worries about her potential new neighbor. The quality of her groundwater tops that list.
The property on which the warehouse will be located is down-gradient from a known groundwater plume of contamination. The plume comes from an unknown source suspected to be south of the interstate. The heaviest concentrations of the contaminant, trichloroethylene (TCE), have been found to the southeast and east of the proposed warehouse site.
Goodman North American Partnership hired Advantage Engineers to conduct a study of the proposed warehouse property, and a report submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection in January showed that the contamination was not from the site of the proposed warehouse.
“Regardless, people are not drinking the groundwater there in the area, so public health is protected,” said Lisa Kasianowitz, DEP spokeswoman.
Properties to the south and east, as well as a portion of the future warehouse site, have been granted Act 2 liability protection by DEP, and, in documents submitted to the Dickinson Township Board of Supervisors, Goodman Birtcher has acknowledged its intent to seek similar protections for the remainder of the property.
Kasianowitz said Act 2 is “basically a voluntary cleanup program of contaminated sites. (Act 2) provides a framework for setting cleanup standards, provides incentives for developing abandoned sites and releases responsible parties from liability when cleanup standards are met and provides funding for environmental studies and cleanups.”
Line wants to know what happens to the groundwater contamination when construction crews begin blasting or moving the earth at the site. The Lines have had their water tested. It’s fine now, but Line asks who will clean it if it becomes contaminated.
Air quality has also been a concern. Brough pointed out that the American Lung Association recently released a study that once again gave the region an F. The Dickinson Township supervisors have said the new warehouse wouldn’t add to the levels of particulate matter in the air, but Brough said she can’t see how more truck traffic wouldn’t add to that measure.
“Having this string of warehouses that go from the Susquehanna down to Maryland can’t be good for the environment or for our health,” she said.
Line said her daughter participated in a science fair project looking at the correlation between weather conditions and air quality. She said it was amazing how many days they tell older people and young children not to go outside due to the health risks.
The increasing number of warehouses is also destroying the quality of land in the area, Line said. There have been coyotes, deer and wild turkeys on the farm, and she wonders what happens to them as the land continues to be covered in warehouses and asphalt.
She added that light pollution is terrible at the farm now, with a constant orange glow in the night sky coming from a development nearby. She anticipates it will worsen if the Goodman Birtcher warehouse is built.
Line said her husband tells their daughters about riding his bicycle down Route 11 into town to go to church at First Presbyterian Church on the Square. Such a trek is impossible now, she said, since there is a high speed limit on Ritner Highway, and the road is simply too dangerous.
The traffic and speed on the highway also affect children’s bus stops and families who have to cross the street to get to their mailboxes.
Opponents of increased warehouse development have also questioned why facilities are being built when there are vacancies at existing facilities, as well as plans for structures yet to be built. Brough said the area has already exceeded the recommended amount of warehousing in the Exit 44 study even as more is coming.
“We’re oversaturated with them. Even our comprehensive plan in Dickinson Township says we should be looking for a diversification of businesses, and we’re not doing that,” she said. “There’s just so many arguments against it, and the only argument I’ve heard for it is jobs.”
But, she said, there are signs all over Carlisle “begging” people to take jobs at the warehouses.
Bringing in different types of jobs, on the other hand, will bring a diverse array of people into the community in a way that the reliance on a single type of industry can’t.
“We want a well-rounded community,” Brough said.
Brough, Line and others in the community have asked, “Where does it stop?”
“That question never got answered,” said Dan Wyrick, a former Dickinson Township supervisor and current member of the planning commission.
Wyrick said it should have stopped already with a change the supervisors made to their ordinances after Trammel Crow built a warehouse on the 196-acre Sparks farm off Walnut Bottom Road near the Plainfield exit of I-81.
He said he voted in favor of that project as a supervisor, but he also helped change the township ordinance to make logistics development a conditional use in the business-industrial district, meaning the developer had to meet certain requirements to gain approval. With no more land available, that should have put an end to warehouse development.
“Up until now, further logistics construction was going into areas properly zoned for such, but still opposed by the residents in the community,” Wyrick said.
No more land was available with the appropriate zoning, but the supervisors opened that back up with their decision, and Wyrick said he is afraid they set a precedent for further development in the process.
Though she doesn’t live near the proposed warehouse, Brough said she will continue to work to stop the warehouse industry from expanding because she can’t sit idly by as other people are affected. She said the ongoing fight against the warehouse proposal may serve as a model for other communities, showing them they can fight the deep pockets of the industry.
“You have to fight it. You have to fight against what is not good for your community and for your neighbors,” she said.
Line is afraid that what others may tout as progress will have a detrimental effect on her family’s quality of life, threatening the safety of the air they breathe and the water they drink. But, the farm is their home, and they have no plans to move.
“How can you when this farm has been in the family since 1778?” she asked.