by DYLAN HOUSMAN at dailycaller.com
Serving as President of the Sandy Hook Water Association was largely a symbolic job for Gerald Wingert for most of the 41 years he filled the role.
Wingert, now retired but still active in his small rural Pennsylvania community, would lead meetings and handle some administrative duties for the association, but the beauty of the group was the same as the water system they relied on for decades: it more or less ran itself.
That was the case, at least, until the Pennsylvania state government got involved.
After 17 years of back-and-forth with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Sandy Hook Water Association’s “public” water system went offline this year. Mounting costs due to DEP regulations and legal headaches led the members to vote to disband, with many forced to instead dig wells or build cisterns to have access to clean water.
The three-letter agency succeeded in snuffing out a lifetime of work for Wingert and the dozens of others who helped provide a small community with clean, natural drinking water for more than half a century.
The Sandy Hook Water Association was established in 1965 by residents in rural southern Pennsylvania, ten or so miles outside the small borough of Chambersburg. The inhabitants discovered a natural spring in the mountainous terrain perched above their community and took it upon themselves to construct a system of pipes and plumbing to carry the spring water down the mountain to their homes below.
The system was 100% natural — no electricity nor pumps, just elevation producing natural water pressure flowing down the mountain. “God put that water there, they have nothing to do with that, that’s not their water,” Wingert said while giving the Daily Caller a tour of the community, referring to the DEP.
The Association grew to the point where a few dozen families were getting all their water from the spring. The system is still operable today, nearly sixty years later, albeit with some changes enforced by the DEP. The water from the spring itself is still drinkable straight from the ground.
Gerry, as he’s known to friends and family, became President of the Association in the late 1970s and held the position until recently turning it over to Jason Forrester. He still advises Forrester, who says he knew nothing about water before meeting Wingert except it runs downhill and he needs it to live, on certain matters.
For Wingert, Sandy Hook was a generational undertaking. His parents moved to the area in 1947. In 1966, the year after the Association was formed, he left for the Army and served in Vietnam. He returned to his hometown community, where five generations of Wingerts would go on to use the Sandy Hook water system.
His mind still sharp, Wingert can walk anyone through Sandy Hook’s water filtration building and explain how every meter and switch inside works. He knows the pipeline layout which lies beneath the mountainous dirt by heart, leading us around the grounds of the spring aided by crutches due to injuries sustained by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“I raised my daughters on that water, they grew up on it. After I got out of service we bought a house in the neighborhood, lived there 32 years,” Wingert recalls. “I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1947. So, it’s just — this is all completely useless,” he says as he gestures toward the filtration systems.
It wasn’t until 2006 that trouble began for the community. An anonymous tip was sent to the DEP alleging the unregulated spring water system could be a health hazard. To this day, the members of Sandy Hook don’t know for sure who sent in that tip — perhaps it was a genuinely concerned citizen, a vindictive neighbor who wasn’t allowed to join the water system or maybe someone else.
Regardless, that tip led the DEP to sink its claws in and never let go.
“When you’re dealing with DEP there, any way you do it, is their way. And you got to remember with DEP, common sense and what it costs are not in their equation,” Wingert said. “Anytime you take common sense out of an equation, you’re gonna have — you’re gonna have to add a multiplication table for what’s going to cost you. It’s just that simple. We’re talking simple crap here; we’re not talking anything high pitch.”read more