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The Cook Tract: Field of Dreams or Nightmares? Part II—Depressions, Dust and Deer Problems?

An in-depth look: Some see the possibilities of developing Whitpain open space into athletic fields, while others foresee the headaches of doing so.

This article is the second installment of a two-part series. .

Cook Tract: "Field of Nightmares"?

“This is Mother Nature’s Picasso,” said Joe Bruno, standing at the edge of a Cook Tract field where his 10 cows used to graze. “They’re going to be creating a mountain, you know.”  

The Yost Road resident was talking about eight proposed athletic fields that would be situated on a 25-foot plateau with a parking lot for 280 parking vehicles. Bruno pointed to his old stone barn beyond a blue and white fence that borders Whitpain’s largest remaining open space. 

“The [athletic] fields will be as high as that barn,” he said.

Current project drawings call for a 4:1 rise in elevation for construction of the fields. David Cavanaugh of LandConcepts, the designer of the plan, explained that for every four level feet of land, there would be a one-foot rise in elevation to a height of 25 feet. 

Bruno is familiar with construction. He worked on large projects for 34 years, including the Limerick nuclear power plant. He is concerned about “three-story” athletic fields being constructed on wetlands. 

Cavanaugh said that of the 97-acre Cook Tract, 7.5 acres are in a 100-year flood plain. He said the clean fill and fields would not be located in the floodplain. Cavanaugh explained the flood plain is in the lower portions of the site, adjacent to Stony Creek and a tributary to Stony Creek.

Bruno is concerned about depressions developing on the fields.

“I don’t care how much you roll it, [the fields] will get voids every spring,” he said.

Bruno deals with sinkholes on his property annually. 

“I’ve fixed sinkholes in the spring … for 44 years. I try to fix them,” but Bruno said they keep reappearing.

“What are you gonna do with 25-foot mountains?” he asked. 

He said technology used to create the fields would not stand up to violent storms. 

“You can’t fight Mother Nature. Look at Japan with all its technology.  Mother Nature crushed those buildings," he said.

He thinks water flowing through and underneath the Cook Tract will create problems for the constructed fields. He points out several deep, fresh tire tracks at different spots on the open space. (See photos.)

The bedrock under the three kinds of soils on the site are shale and sandstone, said Cavanaugh. 

"Neither one of these underlying formations is susceptible to sinkholes. There is no concern for sinkholes in this area," he said.

Patch previously reported on for the Cook Tract. Storm water would be collected in underground storage facilities, according to Cavanaugh. The capacity of the facilities has yet to be determined, he said.

Township officials say having storm water management facilities at the Cook Tract will help manage area run off problems.

The township’s storm water management and soil erosion control plans submitted to Montgomery County Conservation District were revised several times, most recently on June 29, said Lynda Rebarchak, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PA DEP) Community Relations Coordinator. She said the application is under review.

Mike Richino, township superintendent of parks and recreation, oversees the Cook Tract project. 

“Storm water that is collected will be used to help irrigate the fields," he said. "It’s a way we can conserve water and go a little greener.”

“They’re [township officials] blinded by the high beams—Walsh [Construction],” Bruno said. “How much are we going to pay for fields? They’re not free, they’re expensive."

Bruno said health costs would arise from the dust of 44,000 truckloads of fill dumped during a year of construction, as projected by Cavanaugh.

“What price are they going to be paying for ill health?” he asked.

He said children attending and Schools, and WonderKey Learning Center could be affected. 

Rebarchak said contractors are required to take “reasonable means” to suppress dust during construction through wetting soil while it is brought in and placed. She said contractors must stabilize soil immediately with straw to suppress dust until grass seed grows.  Contractors must watch their trucks when driving over wet soil, so they do not drag it, Rebarchak said.

If dust is not controlled, it should be reported immediately so PA DEP officials can investigate, Rebarchak said.

“The best time to call is when a problem is seen, not later that day or the next day,” she said. 

The complaint hotline number is 484-250-5991. If there is a problem, PA DEP officials will suggest to contractors different ways to suppress the dust, Rebarchak said.

Even if the dust is wet, Dr. Nathaniel Marchetti, a Temple University associate professor of pulmonary and critical care, said, it would “reduce the amount of dust particles, but probably not totally eliminate it.” 

Marchetti said persons who “already have some type of lung disease … especially those with airway-related diseases such as asthma and chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) [would] be subject to exacerbations of their disease … if wetting measures are ineffective.”

Those suffering with asthma or COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, could have “increased cough, shortness of breath, increased sputum production, more wheezing, and typically need to be treated with increased use of inhaled medications and sometimes prednisone [steroids],” Marchetti said. 

Allergy symptoms could “worse[n] if the individual was allergic to some component of the aerosolized dirt (dust) that would lead to the usual … watery, itchy eyes; runny nose and cough,” Marchetti said.

Residents with underlying conditions should keep windows shut and limit time outside their homes when work on fields is being done, Marchetti said.

“The biggest risks occur when soil is being ‘dumped’ on the construction site,” he said.

Bruno said dump trucks loaded with fill may be wetted on top, but the bottom of the load may be dry. 

Forty to fifty thousand pounds is a lot to wet down," he said. "They [Walsh] want to keep those trucks going.” 

Brian Neckermann of Walsh Construction is the township’s contact for the Cook Tract project. He was asked how dust would be suppressed for construction of the fields. Neckermann said the company forbids employees to speak to the press about projects.

When asked for a home office contact, he said individuals there (in Chicago) would be unfamiliar with details of the local project.

Bruno mentioned a construction-related problem he sees now from the turnpike-widening project: Deer are out in the open and on the roads.

“There was a deer hit today, in broad daylight, on [Route] 202 near the turnpike bridge. The deer are panicked. They don’t look before they cross the street,” he said. “There could be fatal accidents.”

Bruno said with increased construction, more deer could be out in the open, and Lyme disease could be contracted from deer ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were nearly 5,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported in Pennsylvania in 2009.

As Bruno walked off the Cook Tract field, he said, “We don’t need soccer fields in exchange for health problems.”

Residents may learn about Cook Tract updates at an informational meeting Monday, July 11, at 7 p.m. at gym, 1499 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. A formal hearing by the will be held Tuesday, July 19, at 8 p.m., when a vote "may or may not be taken" on the Cook Tract plan, according to the supervisors. Pronczak said the meeting location for this meeting has yet to be decided.

Correction: The formal hearing by the Whitpain Board of Supervisors is being held on July 19, not 18 as originally reported.

Zen July 11, 2011 at 07:26 PM
The Court in King of Prussia was built on a sink hole area and was determined to be unsuitable for building until the technology was found to use layers of stone and hardware cloth to stop any problems. That was in about 1982.
Stafford J. Keer July 11, 2011 at 07:32 PM
Good article. Probably we will rue the day we dealt with this project. Storm water will also infiltrate through that pile and eventually cause the soccer fields to develop ruts which will need to be repaired and repaired ad infinitum. A terrible situation.
Stafford J. Keer July 11, 2011 at 07:46 PM
The rain does not have to cause sink holes just ruts in the fields. If not repaired the soccer players will have sprained or broken ankles. What technology will prevent the rainfall from causing ruts in the soccer fields? By the way the buildings usually are built on concrete caissons which go down to rock that is more stable. Lots of luck:)
sharon b July 12, 2011 at 10:41 AM
re: King of Prussia....and they had $$$$!! in flood damage last year because of the rain...
Pat macavoy July 13, 2011 at 06:07 PM
Soil samples need to be take from cook track before, during, and after the "clean fill" is dumped!

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