Hellam Twp., York County, map

Hellam Township, York County. 

Streams in Hellam Township will get renewed protection against erosion and sediment runoff under a proposed new ordinance to preserve riparian buffers in the township. The new law, which is expected to be considered next month by the township’s supervisors, will require a 75-foot buffer of vegetation to be preserved or restored for new development or activity that results in a disturbance of the land near streams.

The measure calls for the buffer area to be divided into two 37.5-foot-wide zones. The zone immediately adjacent to a stream would be fully protected, with the second zone restricting any grading, fill or other disturbance to no more than 20 percent of that zone. Exceptions in both zones would allow conditional use exceptions to be granted for docks, boat launches, and water and sewer utility purposes.

Any areas in the buffer zones that are disturbed by adjacent development will need to be restored, with native trees and shrubs required in the area closest to the stream. Native grasses would also be permitted in the second zone.

“Riparian buffers do a tremendous job of retaining soil. They do a lot to help with sediment,” said board Chairman Galen Weibley, during the March 21 meeting. The buffers also help filter and reduce pollution and pesticide runoff.

The new law was spurred in part by damage last summer’s Labor Day storm, which caused serious flooding of township streams, resulting in significant erosion and serious sediment runoff issues. The township is facing stream restoration work to remove sediment in some areas.

“Since that flood, the sediment in some places is enough raise the stream level two or three feet,” Hellam Township Supervisor Phil Smith said. “In some places the streams are now almost even with the roads.”

The ordinance would restore some of the protections lost previously when the supervisors repealed a section of the township’s zoning ordinance due to concerns that it was too restrictive, especially for farms. It also simplifies the requirements by replacing complicated formulas in the old law with simple distances to determine the areas to be protected. The new ordinance, which was recommended by the York County Planning Commission, will be a stand alone law, separate from the township's zoning code.

The five-member board voted unanimously to advertise the proposal. A public hearing on the measure will be held prior to the anticipated vote at the supervisors’ April 18 meeting.

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