Friday, August 01, 2014

NorCo Deputies Save Another Life


Not all that long ago, Northampton County Deputy Sheriffs saved the life of one of my best friends, Attorney Richard Schaedler. He suddenly passed out before presenting a motion. His heart had stopped for seven minutes, but my old Hellertown buddy made a miraculous recovery.

They just did it again. I missed the event because I was in Ron Angle's secret underground lair at the time, drinking Espresso, but The Express Times reports that they were able to revive an 18 or 19 month-old toddler who had stopped breathing and was turning blue.

These folks are so self-effacing that not one of them mentioned it to me.

Congrats, ladies and gentleman. Again.

Panto Defends Conflict of Interest

According to its City-hosted website, the Easton Redevelopment Authority (RDA) "oversees the redevelopment of the Simon Silk Mill and seeks to facilitate the rehabilitation of other blighted or vacant structures within the City limits." Developer Mark Mulligan, who is the paid construction manager at the Silk Mill redevelopment and is involved in other properties, is clearly their biggest customer. In "Mark and Mike's Excellent Adventure," Parts One and Two, I told you about the disconcerting relationship between Mulligan and RDA employee Michael Brett. There's an undeniable conflict of interest. But rather than condemning it, Easton Mayor Sal Panto has embraced it, and is dismissing all criticism.

For a Mayor who prides himself on transparency and accountability, and who has largely conducted himself this way, this is an alarming flaw. It's what happens when a City puts all its eggs in one basket, as Easton has done with Mulligan.

In Part One, I told you that Brett, who also happens to sit on the Easton Zoning Hearing Board, has a realtor license parked with Mulligan's VM Realty.

Panto asked, "Where's the beef?"

In Part Two, I revealed that Mulligan formed both a LP and LLC - 356-358 Wilkes-Barre L.P. and 356-358 Wilkes-Barre 1A, LLC - to purchase and rehab a set of row homes that had incurred fire damage. Records reveal that the LP's General partner is the LLC. Records provide no name for the owners or shareholders of the LLC.

These entities were formed to prevent the public from learning who is involved in this fire restoration project. But the addresses gave Mulligan away. They tied back to his Flemington and Easton offices.

I questioned whether Brett was the other partner, especially since his phone number is listed on the work permits, and it turns out he is. Yesterday, Easton Director of Administration Glenn Steckman acknowledged the connection.
Mike Brett is a part-owner of the Wilkes Barre property. The properties as I understand it where [sic] purchased $5,000 each plus the cost of the escrow amounts. The properties were burned and the outside secured to an acceptable condition. Deals like that are available throughout the city. VM [Mulligan} as [sic] since partnered with VM and created a limited liablity [sic] partnership. A number of landlords and other property owners do this through out the city. And I agree he should get some direction from the state ethics commission which he falls under.
Were you aware that deals like this are available throughout the City? Only insiders have this special knowledge.

Brett used his insider knowledge as a public employee to get a South Side Special. Even worse, he did it with a developer whose work at the Silk Mill is overseen by the RDA.

This is a blatant conflict of interest. Brett and Mulligan know this, which is why they formed both a LLC and LP to keep everyone from finding out.

If this were Bethlehem, Brett would already be on the outside looking in. I would expect Mayor Sal Panto to condemn this, too. Instead, he condemned me.
I am working fior [sic] the betterment of our city and have stated before that I will never again participate in this blog. Mr. O'Hare is nothing more than an agitator who stirs the pot with half-truths and inuendos [sic] from individuals that feed him what he thinks is factual.
So much for transparency. ... And spelling.

When I first raised this matter, Panto promised to give it his "personal attention". He promised to ensure that "every decision is transparent and ethically acceptable." There is nothing transparent or ethically acceptable about a public employee and a developer hitching their wagons on a sweetheart deal they actively tried to hide from the public. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mark and Mike's Excellent Adventure - Part 2

Earlier this month, I posted Mark and Mike's Excellent Adventure. It's about the curious relationship between City of Easton Community Development Specialist Michael Brett, who also sits on the Zoning Hearing Board, and the City's latest Revelopment Superhero, Mark "I'm not Swytlick" Mulligan.It just happens that Michael the public employee has parked his realtor license over at Mulligan's VM Realty, a subsidiary of his VM Development Group.

Mulligan has the Simon Silk Mill, Wolf Building, Northampton National Bank and Pomeroy Building. Mulligan has taken advantage of every tax handout the City has been willing to pass along, and there's been about $9 million so far.

Of course, when a city real estate redevelopment employee who also sits on the Zoning Hearing Board has a relationship with a developer like Mulligan, all kinds of alarm bells should be sounding. But not to Mayor Sal Panto. He promised to get a whitewash from the Ethics Commission, but also demanded, "Show me the beef!"

He might find a burger or two if he looks into the city records for 356-358 W. Wilkes-Barre Street. In 2012, that South Side brick twin was badly damaged when a fire broke out - twice - within the span of six hours.

The property (there are actually two attached row homes) was sold after the fire, in 2013, to an outfit that seemed to be created just for the purpose - 356-358 Wilkes-Barre L.P.  According to state corporation records, its address is located at 130 Main Street in Flemington. Its General Partner is identified as 356-358 Wilkes-Barre 1A, LLC.  That corporation's address is listed as 400 Northampton Street in Easton, Suite 700.

The amounts paid - $21,900 and $17,700 - are well below what the properties are worth, even with the fire damage. Plus the new owner has access to monies in escrow with the City from the insurance company to ensure repairs are completed.

Whoever bought this property has gone to great lengths to conceal his identity, even to the point of creating a corporation and a partnership. But the identity of at least one of the partners in this venture can be determined by looking at the addresses listed - 130 Main Street and  400 Northampton Street, Suite 700.

It's Mulligan.

Why would Easton's biggest developer go to such great lengths to conceal his identity concerning a small South Side property?

It appears he may be trying to protect one of his partners. If you call the phone number for the permits issued to 356-358 Wilkes-Barre L.P., Michael Brett will answer the phone.

Sal, I'll take pickles, ketchup and A-1 steak sauce on that burger. Maybe we can eat it at Cheeburger, Cheeburger.

Another interesting point is that the attorney who did all the deed transfers for this property is none other than Karl Longenbach. He just happens to be the father of Easton RDA Exec Director Gretchen Longenbach. Seems he's been doing a lot of legal work for Mulligan lately.

Maybe I'll have two hamburgers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Delayed Drowning Case at Liberty High School To Go Forward

In an Opinion and Order released today, Judge Joel Slomsky of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a an unusual "dry" or "secondary" drowning case against both Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) and Liberty High School P.E. teacher Carlton Rodgers will move forward. He denied motions for summary judgment to a civil rights filed by Mica Spady, the mother of 15 year-old Juanya Spady, who had recently transferred to the school. A non-swimmer, he died shortly after a swimming P.E. class.

The lawsuit was filed by Allentown Attorneys Rick Orloski and Steve Ameche.

At this time of year, children sometimes encounter difficulties in local pools and swallow large amounts of chlorinated water. But after they are rescued, about 1-2% of them are still at risk of drowning? It's called delayed or dry drowning, It happens when someone, while thrashing in the water, swallows large amounts of water. This can cause air passages to spasm and the lungs to fill up with fluid, suffocating the victim. It's what happened to Juanya Spady, a 15 year old Liberty High School sophomore who experts say drowned about an hour after he was out of the school pool. The Bethlehem School District has denied, it's at fault, but Judge Slomsky has ruled there's enough "undisputed facts" in this "undeniably tragic" case to send it to a jury.

Spady attended a P.E. class in which swimming was the activity of the day. He was told to go with the other non-swimmers to the shallow end of the pool while a Rodgers instructed the rest of the class on swimming moves from a deck. Because grades depend on class participation, Spady decided to do some "gutter grabbing," i.e. make his way around the perimeter of the pool by using his hands to keep him afloat. Occasionally, he'd let go, sink to the bottom and bounce back up.

His fun ended when he bumped into a group of swimmers and lost his grip. He was down a long time, but finally made his way back to the surface. Spady told Rodgers he was feeling ill, and was told to take a break. Rodgers recalls telling Spady to go to the nurse or sit out the remainder of the class. But some students contradict this, saying that Spady was ordered back into the pool. Others testified that Rodgers graded students on class participation. They also noticed that, after the "gutter grabbing" incident, Spady was not himself.

After P.E., Spady went to English class. But ten minutes in, his head hit the desk behind him, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and a pink, frothy substance began coming from his nose and mouth. His teacher sent students to get help, and a nurse and police officer arrived a few minutes later. CPR was tried. Mouth to mouth. An AED was used. Oxygen was administered. No pulse. Though he was administered a total of 17 shocks, he died.

Dr. Isadore Mihalikis, who performed the autopsy, called it an unexplained seizure. But flamboyant forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht concluded this was a case of dry drowning caused by a toxic reaction to the swimming pool chlorine. In addition to the pink and frothy discharge, Dr. Wecht noted a high glucose level and epinephrine, which accompanies these delayed drownings.

Dr. Alison Osinski, an aquatics expert, agrees. She also adds that it was negligent for the school district to enroll Spady in a swim class without any regard to his skill level, comparing it to forcing a student to take calculus without first going through pre-algebra. She states the teacher should have been in swimming gear and the student lifeguard on hand should not have been lying on the bleachers. Finally, she advises there should have been a "buddy system" in place, and that non-swimmers should be equipped with floatation devices.

Updated 8:55 pm: The decision can be found here

Consumed By Hatred

From a Tricia Mezzacappa's blog."He [O'Hare] has a blackened heart that will hopefully explode soon."

Something is obviously wrong with people who wish for another persons's death. I don't know which mental disorder it is, but it's definitely there. She and her narcissistic Blog Mentor write things like this. It's one reason why nobody reads them.

Portland Shuts Off Water to 17 Homes

Sharon Angle, the ying to the Ron Angle yang, is nothing like her husband. She has absolutely no interest in politics and thinks we're all just a little nutz. I noticed that the first time I met her during a County Council meeting. She brought a stack of fashion magazines and kept complaining to me that she wished Ron would shut up. But Sharon, like her husband, has a strong sense of right and wrong. She recently took on the Portland Water Authority in a losing battle over their decision to require all of their 400 customers to install something called backflow preventers. Seventeen customers who failed to do this lost their water service last week. To get it back, they will have to pay $30 for the shutoff notice, the cost of the backflow preventer and a $90 hook up fee.

Backflow preventers are what keep drinking water from being contaminated by sources in the ground when water pressure suddenly drops. Drinking water has no chance of being contaminated by Mr. Hankey, experts tell me, but low pressure could cause oil or some other heavy metals to leech in through cracks in the pipes. They are also called check valves, and cost from as little as $100 to $395, depending on the plumber you use. Suburban Water does not require them for residential buildings. The PUC does require them for multi-units, businesses and new construction.

Portland is the last place in the Lehigh Valley to need these devices. That's because the water pressure of its gravity-driven pipes is already incredibly high, somewhere around 120 lbs. "It doesn't make any sense at all," notes Bob Cartwright, a Portland resident who was once a member of that Authority himself.  But an engineer, of course, recommended this measure. "It's still the Perrier of the Slate Belt," Cartwright insists.

Sharon owns about seven homes served by the Portland Water Authority. She received a notice that, unless backflow preventers were installed, her water would be shut off. Her tenants received notices, too, telling them they could ignore paying their rent if the water was turned off.

Though these are just single-family homes, not businesses or multi-unit structures, she decided to comply. But her plumber told her she'd have to wait because demand was so high. She went to a meeting to get an extension because the office hours at this small authority are very limited.

That's where she met Father Steve Maco, from the tiny St. Vincent DePaul parish. Father Steve's plumber had some bad news. These check valves are installed by the shut off valve, but his was not where it should be. In fact, it is buried in the middle of the street.

A miracle!

The Authority first tried telling Father Steve that he's have to pay $4,000 to dig up the street. But it is Sharon Angle who pointed out to him that whatever is in the street is the Authority's responsibility. The Authority then asked Father Steve to split the cost, but at Sharon's urging, he hung tough. So the Authority will now spend $4,000 to dig up the street and connect the shut off valve to his church, so he can install a $100-200 check valve. Sharon was upset at the way the Catholic cleric was treated. "They didn't even acknowledge that he's a priest," she told me.

Sharon then made a plea for people on fixed incomes or who may have lost their jobs, but they fell on deaf ears. An authority member who does not even live in Portland told her it would be no hardship if people were to save.

"What if there's kids in one of those homes?" worries Sharon.

Last week, the water was turned off at about 17 homes. This was confirmed by Portland Mayor and Authority Chair Lance Prator last night. He told me he does not know who's been shut off, nor does he seem to much care. "They had two years to do this," he told me. "If you don't pay your electric bill for two years, won't they turn it off?"

That's true, but PPL and Met Ed don't force people to hire electricians to attach relays to the meter.

Portland, incidentally, is home to some of the highest sewer bills in the country. It was $100 per month at one point, and still hovers around $75 per month.

They must shit a lot.

Incidentally, because of a water main break on Friday, most of Portland is under a boil advisory "until further notice."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chrin's Plans For V-7 Get "Holy Crap!" Rating

Roger Mellin should ask Chrin for combat pay
It was a tough night to be a developer in Bethlehem Township. Right after Traditions of America's David Biddison had run the gauntlet, it was Roger Mellin's turn before the Planning Commission at their July 28 meeting. He's the Director of Business for Charles Chrin Companies, and presented a sketch plan for the redevelopment of the old V-7 driving range and miniature golf course, next to Route 33. The driving range itself is owned by the Township, with plans on paper for soccer fields some time in the future. Chrin has proposed to develop the remaining 17-acres with an 11-screen movie theatre, four-story hotel, convenience store gas station, bank and restaurant. He also wants to relocate Hope Road while he's at it. He'll also need about ten variances.

"I guess my first comment will be, 'Holy Crap!" announced Planner Les Walker. That sentiment was echoed and repeated by other planners as well as about 20 speakers opposed to the plans in a still-packed house of about 80 residents.

From there, it got worse. "Total nightmare!", "Horrendous!", "This is crap", are just some of the comments expressed by a public that made clear they are tired of the increasing traffic in Township.

Pat Woods, who lives on Hope Ridge Road, was livid that Commissioner Marty Zawarski has already been quoted in a local daily as calling this a good plan. "He has no right to do that," she declared. "He really should abstain from voting."

At this point, Chair Lee Snover observed that all Commissioners were present for the Green Pond proposal, but she was "quite disappointed" that they all left for this plan. In her opinion, this one is worse.

She also noted that the Township owns the land between the former driving range and a PennDOT facility, and questioned what will become of it. The implication that Snover made, without stating it directly, is that Commissioners might be tempted to sell to Chrin.

"What Charlie wants, Charlie gets," shouted someone in the audience, who clearly understood what she was saying, without her saying it.

Of the numerous speakers who made their points about traffic and the diminution of their quality of life, perhaps the most compelling speaker was the youngest.

Emily Krauss is a Freedom High School sophomore. She lives about 2 miles away. but her daily bus trip now lasts 40 minutes as a result of all the increased traffic that has plagued Bethlehem Township.

This was just a sketch plan, so no official action was taken.

"I listened well," Mellin said as he ran for his car.

Updated 10:33 am, to correct a factual error.

Green Pond Senior Development: Conservation or Eco Disaster?

This is Green Pond, which has existed for at least 250 years. 
Anyone who drives along back country roads knows that some are prone to wash outs. That's certainly true of Green Pond Road, which floods every time it rains. From time to time, angry residents storm Bethlehem Township meetings, demanding that something be done. The wet conditions make accidents frequent, too. But this marshy area is on Tradition of America's (TOA) drawing board. Partner David Biddison presented sketch plans to a skeptical Planning Commission on Monday night. Over 100 people crammed into the meeting room, standing along the sides and even sitting on the floor. They were joined by all current and even several former Commissioners. Twenty-two people, nearly all of them Township residents, spoke against the plan. Not one person supported it. Some hated the traffic. Others were upset by the stormwater management. But most were there for the birds. This gated community is planned next to both Green Pond as well as the Green Pond Marsh, which is treated by local environmentalists and bird lovers as a sanctuary.

John Glagola can tell you all about the floods and accidents along Green Pond Road. He lives there. One side of his home faces Green Pond. Another faces a wetland. At least once a month, someone slams into the guard rail along the windy road. Once someone drove her SUV right into Green Pond.

Glagola is more than a next door neighbor. A Harvard grad, he's also an architect and planner with a prestigious real estate investment firm based in Manhattan. In his opinion, the plans submitted by TOA will only exacerbate very real traffic and flooding concerns. But his chief concern are his neighbors. They're squawking, too. They're birds.
This is Green Pond Marsh. Most people look at the pond, but this is what has attracted the birds
History of Green Pond, An Important Bird Area

A collective of bird watchers and environmentalists calling themselves "Save Green Pond" has mobilized to protect these marshlands from the developer's bulldozer. "There is virtually no place of its kind in the Lehigh Valley," proclaims the website. Over 160 different bird species have been documented at this environmentally sensitive area, including eight kinds of birds that are classified as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

Charles Trapani photographed this sandpiper in the
mudflats on Saturday. 
Northampton County recently had to halt bridge repairs in Plainfield Township after learning the area might be a bog turtle habitat. This area actually is a habitat for rare birds like the Osprey and Great Egret.

The Green Pond marsh has existed a long time, long before the arrival of European settlers from England and Germany. Sitting at his kitchen table, Glagola pulled out an old plat from Lettie Asbury, daughter of William Penn. It shows her 1735 conveyances to William Allen. The pond, which was much larger then, is clearly delineated. "This is not something we just dreamed up yesterday," noted Glagola, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between birds and wetlands. He presented that plat to Planning Commissioners Monday night.

Victoria Bastidas, an environmentalist who is the spearhead of a movement to preserve Camel's Hump Farm in Bethlehem, agrees. "We are only a mile away as the crow flies and we have wetlands and a stream, but there is something about that site that attracts far more types of birds," she observes.

On any day of the week, a short trip to the marsh reveals an abundance of aviary delights that go unnoticed by many. Great blue herons are there all the time, along with sandpipers who fly in from Antarctica, as well as the glossy ibis. In winter, snow geese descend and use it as one of their landing stops. It is one of the largest staging areas of lesser black-backed gulls in North America, with counts of 200 plus birds.

The Audubon Society has recently designated the Green Pond Marsh as an "important bird area", one of just 10,000 such sites world wide. The area is considered "vital to birds and other biodiversity."

Birdwatchers regularly visit green Pond Marsh
Development Pressure

Green Pond Country Club, the owner of the 68-acre site in question, has met with the Wildlands Conservancy, but has resisted efforts to conserve this wetland. Traditions of America is actually the third developer to submit plans for this property. Toll Brothers and J.P. Petrucci have walked away from designs that would have resulted in more homes than those proposed by Traditions. They were defeated by traffic and stormwater mitigation concerns.

Glagola recognizes that, though the area is a low-lying basin, it will eventually be developed. He believes it's a $60 million project. "But let's be serious and recognize there are other issues here than human greed," he states, predicting that Traditions engineers will deny there are wetlands next to Green Pond. He calls the current plans an "eco disaster."

Ornithologist Rick Wiltraut
Traditions of America (TOA)'s Plan To Conserve 18 Acres

Traditions of America (TOA), formed in 1997, is one of several successful development companies started by J.B. Reilly and Timothy McCarthy. Though they are no longer involved in day-to-day operations, Biddison conceded that both are still involved in the company. Interestingly, J.B. Reilly is the developer behind many of the projects in Allentown's controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone.

TOA specializes in building "active senior" or 55 plus communities, and has developed two popular projects in Hanover Township alone. Units are selling despite a slow real estate market.

In a detailed presentation, Biddison told planners and the public that the active senior gated community will consist of 265 single family detached dwellings linked by a 2-mile walking path and include amenities like a clubhouse and pool.

The chief attraction, aside from the nearby Green Pond Country Club, is the Green Pond Marsh.

Biddleson insisted that only 27,000 sq ft directly across Farmersville Road from the pond has actually been delineated as a "wetland". But after consulting with the national Audubon Society, Hawk Mountain and Ducks Unlimited, TOA is proposing to conserve 18 acres along the northern side of the development. In addition to the current wetlands, TOA is proposing and additional 73,000 sq ft of conservation area, consisting of lined ponds of varying depths. In addition, mudflats will be redesigned. There will also be a large infiltration basin, planted with native grasses. He's proposing a walking path around the conservation area, along with a place to park and raised viewing platforms.

All stormwaters generated at the site will stay there. In addition to the large infiltration basin in the 18-acre conservation area, there will be a pond at the southern end of the development.

Packed house forced to use floor
TOA's Plan to Stop Ponding along Roadways, and Traffic

In an attempt to curb the frequent washouts along Green Pond and Farmersville Road, PennDOT in 2011 decided to raise the road levels on Farmersville Road. This slows the flow of water from Green Pond into the marsh, but has also resulted in much more water along the road. Thus, in addition to depriving wildlife of water, driving conditions are now even worse than they wore before. The solution, according to Glagola and the Save Green Pond site, is an underground drainage pipe from the pond to the marsh. That's precisely what TOA has proposed.

Biddleson also addressed traffic, noting that the traffic generated by an active senior development will be about 1/3 that of a normal development at the site.

John Glagola, jacket and tie, has defended mudflats three times
A Warning

"We're not hiding from the issue," Biddleson asserted."We're trying to do the right thing." But he also had a warning, noting that Green Pond Country Club could get a permit and dig a large hole in the conservation area. "The property owner, if backed into a corner, has options and is likely to exercise those options."

Commissioner Concerns

Planning Commissioners were skeptical. Kenn Edinger questioned how a golf course community could have no link to the golf course. After hearing Biddleson repeated speak about the TOA gated community, he asked, "What about our community?" He also raised concerns about overflow parking, stormwater and "major' traffic concerns.

Don Wright asked whether snow treated with salt and other chemicals could make their way into the conservation area. Biddleson retorted that farmers use chemical fertilizer and this is the "lesser of two evils."

James Dailey stated the roads are too narrow, especially for emergency vehicles. Biddleson claimed his widths were acceptable, but township Engineer Brian Dillman told him he needs township approval for those roads, which are 24' instead of 32' wide.

The birds will continue squawking, but won't be at tonight's planning meeting. Bird watchers and environmentalists plan to do the squawking for them.

Great Blue heron in mudflats on Saturday
The Vox Populi For Residents Only?

Before opening up the floor to the public, Chairman Lee Snover announced that only residents would be allowed to speak. That brought an objection from a member of the media, who pointed out that the Sunshine Act applies to nonresidents as well. Snover quickly reversed herself, and allowed non-residents to speak, but only after all residents had their say.

As it happens, 20 of the 22 speakers, all opposed, were Township residents.

Glagola disputed TOA's contention that only 27,000 sq ft is wetlands. In August 2013, he had an engineer study the lands, and his conclusion is that the wetlands actually extend beyond the 18 acres set aside for conservation. "I don't know what science they're using," he scoffed. "the science is we want to build more homes." He called the TOA plan an "eco disaster waiting to happen."

Paul Jordan noted that between 300,000-400,000 geese visit the marsh and pond every year. "I understand developments have to go in, but why here?" he asked.

Barbara Malt, a VP for the LV Audubon, noted that the majority of birds visiting this site are migratory. Scott Burnet, another member of the LV Audubon, rejected the notion that these birds would feed on native grasses, noting they eat invertebrates. He also indicated that no one really understands why so many birds are attracted to those mudlfats, but he knows they can't be recreated by human development.

"You disturb that area, you destroy it." he warned.

The final speaker, ornithologist Rick Wiltraut, was even more ominous. He noted that barn owls have completely disappeared in Pennsylvania, and monarch butterflies are now a rarity. But in a time of declining wildlife, shorebirds from Antarctica still regularly visit the Green Pond Marsh. He flatly told TOA that "lined ponds aren't going to cut it. [The birds] need mud." He added that TOA can't recreate what already exists.

"The development has to stop somewhere. We owe it to our kids to protect areas like that."

Snover told the audience to check the Township website for upcoming planning agendas. A member of the audience remarked it was last updated in October. But the Township recently hired Nathan Jones as it new Planning Director,and promised to remedy that problem.

Blogger's Note: This post updates yesterday's story with the Planning Commission meeting. Believe it or not, there was a second hearing that might have eclipsed this one, involving Charlie Chrin and the old V-7 Driving Range.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is an Eco Disaster Coming to Green Pond?

Charlie Trapani caught this Great Blue Heron
looking for lunch at the marsh on Saturday 
Anyone who drives along back country roads knows that some are prone to wash outs. That's certainly true of Green Pond Road, which floods every time it rains. From time to time, angry residents storm Bethlehem Township meetings, demanding that something be done. The wet conditions make accidents frequent, too. But this marshy area is on Tradition of America's drawing board. Planners will consider a 256-home gated community for active seniors tonight.

Traditions of America is one of several successful development companies started by J.B. Reilly and Timothy McCarthy. It specializes in building "active senior" or 55 plus communities, and has developed two popular projects in Hanover Township alone. Units are selling despite a slow real estate market.

Traditions is now focused on Bethlehem Township, even though construction has begun on an 837-unit mini-city that is strangely called Madison Farms.

But if John Glagola has his way, Traditions' plans will be downscaled. Glagola can tell you all about the floods and accidents along Green Pond Road. He lives there. One side of his home faces Green Pond. Another faces a wetland. At least once a month, someone slams into the guard rail along the windy road. Once someone drove her SUV right into Green Pond.

Glagola is more than a next door neighbor. A Harvard grad, he's also an architect and planner with a prestigious real estate investment firm based in Manhattan. In his opinion, the plans submitted by Traditions will only exacerbate very real traffic and flooding concerns. But his chief concern are his neighbors. They're squawking, too. They're birds. 

History of Green Pond, An Important Bird Area

Always good to look one's best. After lunch, Charlie Trapani
caught this juvenile preening. 
He's by no means alone. A collective of bird watchers and environmentalists calling themselves "Save Green Pond" has mobilized to protect these marshlands from the developer's bulldozer. "There is virtually no place of its kind in the Lehigh Valley," proclaims the website. Over 160 different bird species have been documented at this environmentally sensitive area, including eight kinds of birds that are classified as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

Northampton County recently had to halt bridge repairs in Plainfield Township after learning the area might be a bog turtle habitat. This area actually is a habitat for rare birds like the Osprey and Great Egret.

The Green Pond marsh has existed a long time, long before the arrival of European settlers from England and Germany. Sitting at his kitchen table, Glagola pulled out an old plat from Lettie Asbury, daughter of William Penn. It shows her 1735 conveyances to William Allen. The pond, which was much larger then, is clearly delineated. "This is not something we just dreamed up yesterday," noted Glagola, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between birds and wetlands.

Victoria Bastidas, an environmentalist who is the spearhead of a movement to preserve Camel's Hump Farm in Bethlehem, agrees. "We are only a mile away as the crow flies and we have wetlands and a stream, but there is something about that site that attracts far more types of birds," she observes.

On any day of the week, a short trip to the marsh reveals an abundance of aviary delights that go unnoticed by many. Great blue herons are there all the time, along with sandpipers and the glossy ibis. In winter, snow geese descend and use it as one of their landing stops. It is one of the largest staging areas of lesser black-backed gulls in North America, with counts of 200 plus birds.

The Audobon Society has recently designated the Green Pond Marsh as an "important bird area", one of just 10,000 such sites world wide. The area is considered "vital to birds and other biodiversity."

PennDOT's Fix

In an attempt to curb the frequent washouts along Green Pond and Farmersville Road, PennDOT in 2011 decided to raise the road levels on Farmersville Road. This slows the flow of water from Green Pond into the marsh, but has also resulted in much more water along the road. Thus, in addition to depriving wildlife of water, driving conditions are now even worse than they wore before. The solution, according to Glagola and the Save Green Pond site, is an underground drainage pipe from the pond to the marsh.

PennDOT has dried up some of the wetland
Development Pressure

Green Pond Country Club, the owner of the 68-acre site in question, has met with the Wildlands Conservancy, but has resisted efforts to conserve this wetland. Traditions of America is the third developer to submit plans for this property. Toll Brothers and J.P. Petrucci have walked away from designs that would have resulted in more homes than those proposed by Traditions. They were defeated by traffic and stormwater mitigation concerns.

Glagola recognizes that, though the area is a low-lying basin, it will eventually be developed. He believes it's a $60 million project. "But let's be serious and recognize there are other issues here than human greed," he states, predicting that Traditions engineers will deny there are wetlands next to Green Pond. He calls the current plans an "eco disaster."

The birds will continue squawking, but won't be at tonight's planning meeting. Bird watchers and environmentalists plan to do the squawking for them. 

District Judge Taschner To Handle StickerGate

The prosecution of Nazareth's dangerous Sticker Gang is no longer being heard by District Judge John Capobianco. In what has to be a relief for him, the controversial case is now being heard by District Judge Jackie Taschner.  Since Judge Capobianco and Nazareth Police Chief Thomas Trachta operate in the same small building, and Judge Capobianco was being asked to rule on a matter involving criticisms of the Chief, I could see that he would want to avoid even a hint of impropriety.

Judge Capobianco, a former Deputy Sheriff, is a law-and-order type, but there is no doubt in my mind that he would have considered this matter fairly. He's had the opportunity on many occasions to send me away for life over unpaid parking tickets, but had mercy.

His successor, Judge Taschner, is a former prosecutor also known as a law-and-order type. But what I remember best about her is when she and DA John Morganelli were being assailed for not filing more charges in a domestic abuse case. "I'm a prosecutor, not a persecutor," she quietly told me.

She has also had the opportunity to send me away for life over unpaid parking tickets. They're pretty hard to get in Palmer Township, but I managed to do it..

"Next time I see you, it's the electric chair," she warned me.

I hope that she meant next time she sees me as a Defendant.  I'll be at the preliminary hearing, currently scheduled for August 13 at 1:30 pm.

I plan to arrive early in case Chief Trachta and arresting Officer Dan Troxell are planning any more perp walks.

I'll bring a tooth brush and rubber underwear, just in case.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dolan Stops Taking Questions at Illick's Mill News Conference

Illick's Mill
Though Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan is no longer the Executive Director or even a voting board member at the Illick's Mill, she still called a news conference on July 24 to announce to an audience of about 40 that the drop-in nature center is closing. The facility will still host weddings through the end of January, and Dolan stated that some unspecified group from Lehigh may be taking over. She also stated she would remain as a gardener.

Her announcement comes at a time when attempts to negotiate a lease, and one that requires some kind of rental payment, have faltered. In an April text to Mayor Donchez, she promised, "I will do everything I can to prevent this lease from going to Council." On the eve of her news conference, she recommended on the Facebook Mill site that supporters contact the Mayor, write letters to the editor and even speak out at City Council meetings. She also lashed out, "I hope ruining my life's work was enough evil for the Gang of Jerks."

Dolan and her nonprofit are currently under investigation by a Grand Jury convened by DA John Morganelli. Witnesses have included former Mayor John Callahan, Mill Chairman Andrew Bollinger, Parks and Public Works Director Ralph Carp. Dolan has yet to be seen before the grand jury.

Dolan told WFMZ-TV69 that she doesn't know why she's being investigated.

While Executive Director, she failed to file nonprofit tax returns for three years in a row. As a result, her nonprofit status was revoked for at least a year. During that time, she continued raising money. Her vote on last year's budget, which provided for heating oil at the Mill, is an apparent violation of the Ethics Act prohibition on voting on matters in which she has a direct financial interest. Dolan was a paid Executive Director. As Chair of City Council's Parks' Committee, she advocated relaxing restrictions on alcohol in the park, where the Mill hosts wedding receptions. Her threat concerning the lease to Mayor Donchez may be yet another violation of the Ethics Act.

In addition to paying no rent, the Mill has also stopped paying utilities, and Bethlehem taxpayers have footed the bill. In the meantime, there are nine room air conditioners at the site. Over $128,000 owed to the City for work at the Mill has been written off as noncollectable.

Before the news conference began, this reporter was asked to confirm with Dolan's husband that he was there for The Bethlehem Press. Dolan supporter Gloria McVeigh taunted, "Look who's here, gloating over the corpse."

But when she made her announcement, Dolan professed she was interested in accentuating the positive.

"A teacher, that would be me," claimed Dolan, "imagined all things are possible when the people are behind her." She later added, "I was the teacher in this story," to accentuate her role as an educator.

She called Bill Burkhardt, a former Liberty principal, to discuss the value of experiential learning. He was followed by former Liberty High School participant Erin Matyus and Lafayette College intern Rebecca Murray. Tom Kerr, a former board member, echoed Burkhardt.

When the speakers finished, Dolan indicated she would entertain questions, but not about the "dark clouds" surrounding her nonprofit.

But before long, she began blaming the City for the Center's difficulties.She said she had a letter from Solicitor Bill Leeson claiming that the center was a liability, not an asset, and then she made a reference to politics playing a part.

Dolan was then reminded about her claim that she would refrain from discussing the "dark clouds" over the Mill, and that many political and other questions could be asked. At that point, her husband leapt to her defense and Mill supporters shouted down the reporter.

When Dolan continued, she stated she would not be accepting any more questions. But she later told WFMZ-69 that there "was no wrongdoing."

Negrao To Develop City Block Along Linden Street

Floyd Best General Store has been demolished for Negrao development 
An entire city block along Linden Street, between Johnston Drive and Macada Road, will soon be home to both an assisted living facility as well as a pre-school center to be owned and operated by Joseph Negrao. At a July 23 hearing, the Zoning Hearing Board, by a 4-0 vote, granted a special exception and several dimensional variances for the project to proceed.

Negrao is the owner of Alexandria Manor, a popular assisted living facility that already has two locations in Nazareth and one in Bath. In 2005, he received a green light from zoners to build an 83-unit  facility on 2.64 acres at the southwest corner of Johnston Drive and Linden Streets, directly across the street from Elias Market.

In 2012, he decided to try something new. Instead of an assisted living center, he proposed operating a pre-school center called Rainbow Academy at the site. Rainbow, which currently operates 18 New Jersey locations, offers pre-school children infant sign language, musical beginnings and reading and writing readiness. Although zoners at that time unanimously granted a special exception for a 180-student pre-school, they ruled out Saturday classes for physical activities like gymnastics and karate. They also placed an age cap on the Summer camp, restricting it to children 10 years old and younger.

Instead of building, Negrao continued to buy properties along Linden Street, including the iconic but dilapidated Floyd R. Best General Store at the northwestern corner of Macada and Linden, along with several other residences that have seen better days, with driveways that empty out onto Linden Street.

With these purchases, Negrao approached zoners with a new plan. Instead of a personal care facility or pre-school center, how about both?  Represented by Bethlehem Attorney Jim Preston, he persuaded zoners to grant the necessary approvals that will change the location and sizes of both previously approved designs.
Kevin Horvath, from Keystone Engineers, showed the board a plan that will locate the 1-story Rainbow Academy at Macada and Linden, along with a 6,800 sq ft outdoor play area to the immediate north. A 3-story personal care facility, comprising 20,300 sq ft, will be at the other end of the block, where Linden and Johnston intersect. Horvath told zoners the stone and stucco buildings will be close to Linden to act as a buffer for parking behind the facilities. There will be no access from Linden. Visitors will use a 24' wide access road at the western end of the properties, connecting Johnston Drive and Macada Road.

The personal care facility will remain an 83-unit facility, but in a larger building because the trend is for private rooms with kitchenettes, explained Joe Negrao, Jr.

Horvath told zoners that, in his opinion, the plans submitted by Negrao provide a "safer environment" along Linden Street, an arterial road, than the current arrangement with residential driveways.

There was no opposition to the relief requested, but Johnston Drive resident Al Bernotas voiced his support.

In other business, the Board granted Jarice Bonilla's request for a special exception so that she could operate a day care at 734-738 Pawnee Street. Bonilla will care for between 4 and 56 children at the 3-bedroom home with a fenced in yard. "I'm looking for babies," she said. "I love babies." She will operate on weekdats between 6 am and 6 pm. In addition to the xoning approval, she is required to obtain a state license, and the City will inspect the property.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Brong Cleared of Conflict Allegations

Late last month, when Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez ended a contract with Barnsdale Associates to accept debris from City-owned property after discovering that Business Administrator David Brong is part owner of the company. He also directed his Solicitor, Bill Leeson, to investigate whether Brong had any knowledge or role in this contract.

Brong told me he is one of six owners in Barnsdale Associates, which was started by his father-in-law in the '80s. He denied any involvement in their day-to-day business, which consist at this time of the operation of an old quarry once owned by Bethlehem Steel. That is their sole remaining asset. He also denied knowing about the contract.

Today, Mayor Donchez cleared Brong of any wrongdoing in these conflict of interest allegations after receipt of a 15-pager investigate report from Solicitor Leeson.

"I am pleased to hear the conclusion of this review. Mr. Brong brings a wealth of operations and budgeting knowledge to City Hall. I am glad to continue working with Dave in serving the citizens of the City of Bethlehem”, stated Donchez. The Mayor also noted that “I have used this opportunity to remind my department heads that my Administration will operate in a transparent manner, always putting the interest of our residents first.”

Religious Intolerance In Mosul

Father Alex, a good friend who will be here for the Lebanese festival in Easton next weekend, has posted a letter from Patriarch of the Babylon for the Chaldean. This is the 500,000-strong Chaldean Catholic Church, which is a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako has a disturbing report of discrimination against Christians in Mosul.

To all who have a living conscience in Iraq and all the world
To the voice of moderate brother Muslims who have a voice in Iraq and all the world
To all who have a concern that Iraq could remain a country for all His Children
To all leaders of thought and opinion
To all who announce the freedom of the human being
To all protectors of the dignity of human beings and of religion
PEACE AND MERCY FROM GOD!

The control exercised by the Islamist Jehadists upon the city of Mosul, and their proclamation of it as an Islamic State, after several days of calm and expectant watching of events, has now come to reflect negatively upon the Christian population of the city and its environs.

The initial sign was in the kidnapping of the two nuns and 3 orphans who were released after 17 days. At the time, we experienced it as a flash of hope and as a clearing of the sky after the appearance of storm clouds.

Suddenly we have been surprised by the more recent outcomes which are the proclamation of an Islamic state and the announcement calling all Christians and clearly asking them to convert to Islam or to pay the joziah (the tax all non- Muslims must pay while living in the land of Islam) – without specifying the exact amount. The only alternative is to abandon the city and their houses with only the clothes they are wearing, taking nothing else. Moreover, by Islamic law, upon their departure, their houses are no longer their properties but are instantly confiscated as property of the Islamic state.

In recent days, there has been written the letter ‘N’ in Arabic on the front wall of Christian homes, signifying ‘Nazara’ (Christian), and on the front wall of Shiite homes, the letter ‘R’ signifying ‘Rwafidh’ (Protestants or rejecters). We do not know what will happen in future days because in an Islamic state the Al – sharia or Islamic code of law is powerful and has been interpreted to require the issuance of new I.Ds for the population based on religious or sectarian affiliation.

This categorization based upon religion or sect afflicts the Muslims as well and contravenes the regulation of Islamic thought which is expressed in the Quran which says, “You have your religion and I have my religion” and yet another place in Quran states, “There is no compulsion in religion”. This is exactly the contradiction in the life and history of the Islamic world for more than 1400 years and in the co – existence with other different religions and nations in the East and in the West.

With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.

It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co – existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.

Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.

We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects.

The Holy Quran has ordered believers to respect the innocent and has never called them to seize the belongings, the possessions, the properties of others by force. The Quran commands refuge for the widow, the orphaned, the poor, and the weaponless and respect “to the seventh neighbor.”

We call Christians in the region to act with reason and prudence and to consider and to plan everything in the best way possible. Let them understand what is planned for this region, to practice solidarity in love, to examine the realities together and so be able together to find the paths to build trust in themselves and in their neighbors. Let them stay close to their own Church and surround it; endure the time of trial and pray until the storm will be over.

Another Kidspeace Protest?

Lat Sunday, the Ronnie DelBacco whackos converged at KidsPeace's doorstep in Salisbury Township and made a bunch of already abused children, most of them incidentally American, feel worse about themselves. Are they planning a repeat?

That's what the Lehigh Valley Industrial Workers of the World claims. "Once again, the racist Tea Party and the PA "State Militia" are going to protest again outside of Kidspeace Bethlehem campus (1650 Broadway Bethlehem, PA) this Sunday, July 27th. This Starts at 11am."

The main page of the LV Tea Party web page does contain a message advising of a rally on Sunday, but I think that's from last week. There has been no chatter about any rally this Sunday.

Tales of Trachta: Trachta Loses Round With Civil Service Commission

In recent days, Nazareth police officer's Dan Troxell's name has appeared in the dailies a few times. Though making an arrest the day after a bar fight is hardly the stuff of which police legends are made, Chief Thomas Trachta wants this part-time journeyman to become a full-time officer. He wants it so badly that he blackballed a Nazareth resident and Iraq War veteran who scored first in testing and already is a police officer in another municipality.

Last night, at a closed hearing of Nazareth's Civil Service Commission, this war hero and Nazareth home boy has been reinstated to #1.

Under state law, an appointment to a vacancy on the police force must come from one of the top three choices of the Civil Service Commission. So it's possible that Borough Council can go with the second or third choice, but this will be hard to justify.

Karen Dolan Plays the Spin Game

Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan likes to remind people like me that she's a former reporter. And at this moment, she's playing the spin game. Though she's been forced to resign as Executive Director at Illick's Mill, she sent out a news release as "Founder" on Sunday. Apparently, she's shutting it down. Now I was under the impression that all communications concerning Illick's Mill were to come through Board Chair Andrew Bollinger. But rules don't apply to her. Today, at 1 pm, she will parade a number of Mill success stories, so that everyone knows how sad and unfair it is and get angry at the Mean Mayor and even meaner DA. 

Here's the skinny. It is beyond dispute that Illick's Mill served a noble function. Dolan had a great deal to do with its good works. But in recent years, she lost her way. She racked up nearly $130,000 in monies owed to the City, mainly because she was misallocating grant money provided for that purpose. Due to her own mismanagement, the Mill lost its nonprofit status. It failed to file tax returns for three years in a row. As a paid Executive Director, she engaged in blatant conflicts of interest that included voting for budgets in which she had a direct pecuniary interest. She stopped paying utilities at the facility, while installing a whopping nine room air conditioners. She threatened the Mayor that she would use her position on Council and as Parks Chair to prevent a new lease, and one that required a rent payment, from seeing the light of day. She began using the Mill for weddings at which alcohol in excess of the 7% limit was served. She suggested on Council that it was time to allow people to use alcohol in City parks.

The problems at the Mill occurred for one and only one reason - Karen Dolan.

The real reason for her "Poor Us, We're Closing" announcement, is to pressure Mayor Bob Donchez into giving her what she wants - a rent-free Mill with nine room air conditioners and free oil. Let the taxpayers and other non-profits subsidize her turtle aquarium. She needs to stir up the troops, and that is what she is doing.

Just as the right has extremists like Ronnie Del Wacko, the left has extremists like Gloria McVeigh. They were both shouting at each other on Sunday when they both abused KidsPeace children while pretending they care. But they are both united in their hatred of independent observers like yours truly. Here's what McVeigh has had to say.
This is just a tragedy. No other words suit. All thanks to two publicity-seeking ego-maniacs + one spineless political leader of Bethlehem. Nice work, guys! Of course, the poor + minority families who enjoy the Park most + could educate their kids on the environment for free are big losers, but they never have any political power, anyway. Dark day for Bethlehem.
Put in its simplest terms, McVeigh's argument is that violations of the Ethics Act are permissible so long as it helps a "poor and minority" family. These transgressions were no help to the poor or minorities. They helped Karen Dolan collect her paycheck. I pointed this out at Facebook, but Dolan deleted my comment, claiming I am no "friend"of the Mill. Actually, neither is she.

She is currently under investigation by a Grand Jury looking at her own very obvious mismanagement at the Mill. Yet she is telling her uninformed supporters things like this:

"It can't hurt to call or email the Mayor's office. He needs to know people care."

"Our current Mayor has never seen the Nature Center, despite his recent comments that he "loves what we have been doing here."

"Write a letter to the editor or the Mayor or both, speak out at a city council meeting."

What she's really doing is trying to spin both the press with stories about how wonderful the Mill is, while simultaneously trying to make the Mayor out as the Bad Guy.

What she doesn't get, even now, is that she's the Bad Guy.

I'll be there to remind everyone at 1 pm today. So far as I know, it is open to the public and press.

She needs to resign from City Council, unless Bethlehem likes having ethically conflicted people.