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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Marty Zawarski: Stormwater Management is Number One Priority

Blogger's Note: Below is the text of Marty Zawarski's comments at the beginning of last night's meeting. 

Since I have been commissioner a month has not gone by, that someone has spoken at this meeting about storm water runoff and how it has impacted them. It seems that several times a year we get 100 year storms. These seem common now and these events effect all of us in some manner. This issue impacts many of our residents directly. I understand the problems and I feel the anger you feel about a government that is unresponsive to the needs of its residents. I know the frustrations you feel. I am going through similar problems that you face, and that is dealing with an unresponsive government and that is totally unacceptable. I will not tolerate a government that is unresponsive to the concerns of the residents. But here is a situation I know I can help minimize, that we can attempt to gain an upper hand. But, I am asking for your patients, your support and your help in getting these issues addressed and then rectified.

I am making this issue, storm water, my number one priority in making our township a better community. This is a problem that will not be fixed overnight, it will take many years to fix , but we can't just sit here and continue to do nothing. We must diligently work to rectify bad situations the best we can. We must do something , anything we can do to control water runoff in a better and more efficient manner will have an impact.

There are several steps we are currently implementing towards this end. Our engineer is currently updating our entire township as to where our current holding ponds and Retention areas are located and where the water comes from and goes to, including storm systems and Swales. I want neighboring municipalities impact area to be included also, both upstream as well as downstream. This gives us our basis and becomes our roadmap in addressing all issues.

Next week, Melissa, Nathan, another commissioner and myself will be visiting Lancaster to see their program. Lancaster is the model program in Pennsylvania as to a community effectively managing their storm water. While at a seminar A month ago we heard a presentation from them and we were very impressed by what steps they are taking to rectify their water issues. Next week, We are going to see firsthand their program. One of the places we have serious issues is at the Chetwin Terrace Park and surrounding neighborhood. One interesting way of improving the water situation in this area is to take the park which is over 2.8 acres and create a massive retention pond that will hold more water than you can imagine and then re-build a park over top of the pond.

Initially we must focus on areas where water enters streams and rivers. Last year we received a grant to improve the pond or holding area by 191 and 22 where water enters the Monocacy from water that is generated from the community college area. But these areas must be improved to accept the upstream water and then we can start working upstream. Working on the Chetwin Terrace Park as soon as we can will have a tremendous impact on our water runoff. We must have a plan to improve every single retention pond that we have under our control. We must modernize them, make them more efficient and make them hold more water.

Alliances between us and other municipalities must be formed to attack water run off on a regional level. Melissa will talk about that issue and steps we are taking in working with other municipalities to get grants to attack stormwater together. That’s why it’s important to map out what happens to water when it leaves our municipality and enters another municipality as well as water that we are receiving from other municipalities. This issue is not something new. Well over 40 years ago The president of the board of commissioners approach the city of Bethlehem about the water making its way from the Freedom East Hills area of the city of Bethlehem, in trying to seek solutions and got nowhere. We will be reaching out to the city of Bethlehem and together hopefully both of us can obtain a grant to improve the large retention pond on East Boulevard and Johnston Drive and Butztown Road which is probably a 5 acre retention pond built in the 70s that with the proper funding could be increased to hold easily 50% more Water. Improving this area will have a tremendous impact on in the Butztown area which is one of our major areas of concern. Our staff will prepare all material needed for a grant joining with the city of Bethlehem. To ask the city to improve it without funding will never happen therefore we must be proactive in forming that partnership in order to get money to support that improvement. Then and only then will that project gets done.

And grants will only be a secondary source for money to address these issues. This will be a very expensive measure which is to improve and modernize our storm water system. The majority of the money must come from all property owners in Bethlehem Township. We will form a storm sewer fund paid for by all property owners in Bethlehem township. A major difference in this fee is that it applies to everyone that owns property. That would include groups and organizations that typically do not have to pay property taxes. They would still be responsible to pay their proportionate share towards this. St. Luke’s and any other hospital, the community college and other tax exempt property owners would be responsible to pay into this fund.

I believe that this is something staff could manage. But we cannot wait anymore. It cannot be expected that this problem could conceivably be corrected without collecting fees. At the seminar attended by Melissa, Mr Hudak and myself, we were shown a Chart showing what residents in about 15 municipalities pay pay towards this and it ranged from $25 to $150 per residence. A fee could be based on your assessment which may be the easiest way to equitably charge each household. The same method maybe apply to other types of property as well. If we were to charge hundred dollars per household on average over a million dollars could be collected. That money could you easily go towards 2 to 4 separate projects. If we address 2 to 4 projects a year in a short time we will make a tremendous impact on stormwater in Bethlehem Township. Of course we could sit and wait and do nothing. But at what cost to our residents and to the township. The Township was hurt significantly with the last several storms. The last two storms cost us easily $250,000. Insurance doesn’t cover that, your taxes do. How many more $250,000 bills can we afford. In my mind we can’t afford any more situations like this, that money is better spent correcting the situation rather than paying for it’s damaging Effects. We really have done nothing towards this end in the last 40 years if ever. The only time we try to help a storm water issue was 30 years or so ago when minimal improvements were made to the Butztown Area. And how much did that really help? Green Pond was dredged in 1960 to lower the water in the pond and intersection.

I don’t want to wait anymore, I believe you don’t want to wait anymore, I believe enough damage has been done. Now is the time that we must move forward and address this issue. I now ask for comments from all the commissioners and staff including Melissa, Nathan and our engineer Bryan Dilman. Then I would want to hear from our residents concerning this issue. Thank you


Anonymous said...

Sounded more like a campaign speech.

Anonymous said...

This from the dummy who wants to develop Green Pond and never saw a hardscape he didn't love.
The mans a baffoon.
Yet another Lehigh Valley municipality is exposed for being run like a banana republic.

Anonymous said...

Who takes this blow hard seriously?
They let this appalling situation linger for decades.

Anonymous said...

vote Glagola
Marty wants to tax you to death
Republicans need to vote Dem this time. This guy help create the problem, but going to put on his cape now and save us all.

Anonymous said...

Between this clown and that little strutting monkey Hudak the place is a circus.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it seems that the people who really understand what baffoons Hudak and Zawarski are, aren't the same people who vote.

Anonymous said...

Time to understand that the same people that are being investigated by the Feds are the same people that have contributed to Zawarski's campaigns. And after almost 4 years in office he comes up with a the bright idea (in an election year)that now is the time to address the storm water problem in Bethlehem Township. Nolan broached this problem 10 years ago and Zawarski's response was to remove him as Board of Commissioners President.
He is soooooooooooooo dirty that a bath in that scum Green Pond would not make him clean.
Maybe voting for Glagola is the right thing!

Anonymous said...

What have the experts been doing the past 25 years? Did the township not employee folks to plan these developments? The(Past)Planning Directors, Planning Commissions and Engineering firms paid to review and plan have obviously failed. Developers get rich, employees benefit, firms get paid outrageous fees to engineer these failures and now we the tax payer are left to pay and attempt to fix the flooding problems.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part 1 of 2

I am hoping someone with foresight in Bethlehem Township reads this. Sorry for the length but this is important.

I have had personal dealings with the Zawarskis in the past as both a Realtor and as a buyer of one of their town-homes at Winfield Court in Palmer Township (I no longer live there). I also served as that condo association's first president. Almost immediately after completion of the project the short-comings of the on-site storm-water management system were obviously apparent. After reviewing the site plan I found errors in grading that prevented water from draining away from buildings and streets and called the township engineer to walk the site.That proved fruitless as the engineer failed to enforce upgrades that seemed obviously to be the responsibility of the builder and were lacking on the plans.

Long story short, we ended up regrading the site with our own contractor but that isn't the real story. The only thing that the Winfield Court storm-water plan accomplished was to hold a certain amount of water on site before releasing it through overflow pipes in the curb onto Winfield Terrace and Sheridan Drive (the dividing line between Palmer and Bethlehem Townships). This overwhelming volume of water flooded the intersection and front yards of the older surrounding homes. Of course in winter this intersection became a skating rink. I was always appalled that this "design" sacrificed the neighboring community for our benefit but I had no way of correcting it within the paltry budget provided by the condo fees at the time.

This anecdote raises a bigger question - not of how they plan to "fix" this issue throughout the township - but of exactly what Zawarski and his cohorts think the problem actually is. The best storm-water management system is to reduce the run-off in the first place and allow water to stay where it falls. This has been nature's solution from time immemorial. It can be accomplished through natural landscaping for bio-retention; more street trees placed where they can provide the highest benefit of rain interception and a whole host of other solutions such as permeable paving to allow water to re-infiltrate the ground and replenish the water table (another issue we don't talk anything about).

I hear no mention in Zawarski's comments of understanding any of these issues beyond simply wanting to know where the water comes from, where it is going and the need for "bigger ponds" and more hard-engineering solutions (pipes, catch basins, etc.).

I have yet to see a local developer install - or a local municipality require - permeable paving standards in any of these suburban sprawl communities. The idea seems to be that we have plenty of open land; we'll just let nature deal with it and get it off the site. Sorry, that doesn't work anymore. Take a look around at all the overbuilt infrastructure of roads and highways needed to deliver this spread-out population to their various destinations. The return on investment of these first and second generation systems (roads created between the 60's and 90's) is now negative and is already hammering municipalities into bankruptcy. They all also contribute to run-off.

Without the density of a city street grid, small lots and compact building footprints to make these systems cost efficient it is virtually impossible to pay for the maintenance or rebuilding of these hard-engineered systems. The thin population densities of sprawl and the inherent lack of tax dollars per square foot of real estate that this development pattern creates is mathematically unarguable. The solution so far seems to be a Ponzi scheme of ever-more "growth" that provides one-time cash infusions to pay for these past mistakes while deferring the maintenance costs of this new growth onto future generations.

End Part 1


Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part 2 of 2

To think that Bethlehem Township, Palmer Township or anyone else can now add another level of "investment" in hardscape solutions is ludicrous. Where is the long-term, return on investment (ROI) analyses for these new systems? One that includes current costs, long-term maintenance and eventual replacement as compared to the tax revenue available to pay for it from existing and imagined future "growth" on a per sq.ft. or per linear ft. basis. I believe if these analyses were ever done (they aren't) we would see that there is no payback period long enough that wouldn't include massive tax increases.

If one looks at the initial cost of development (usually offset by some state-sponsored, capital-projects grant) it makes it very easy for a government to undertake these projects but when the bills come due for upkeep and replacement there are no grants for that - you are stuck with the cost. As example, I have said for a long time that the Chrin development on the new Rt 33 interchange is a boondoggle. Yes, there will also be massive run-off issues there along with road infrastructure responsibility. The idea that the TIFF payback is being personally guaranteed by Chrin totally misses the point.

There was a transportation seminar sponsored by ULI and held at Lafayette College four years ago. It included the Planning Directors of the major LV cities, LANTA and state DOT officials. They talked about everything but the Chrin development until an audience member brought it up in Q&A. With the door opened I asked the following question:

With the TIFF money diverting resources to pay off the development improvements of the new highway interchange and with the obvious future costs of storm-water, other infrastructure and future road maintenance and replacement, has anyone compared these costs, both local and state (remember, both Pen-DOT and local municipalities have to take over ownership of the roads and bridges) with the actual, best-case tax revenue scenario of the built-out development? If so, what is the difference between those two numbers - is it positive or negative? And if it hasn't been done, why not? After they all looked at each other for a while the moderator tried to coax them to respond. They finally admitted that no analysis has been done. And the reason? Because the project is being built with private money. How short-sighted can you get!

Palmer Township (and unfortunately Tatamy by association) are stuck with this future debt. Do not let this be the unfortunate lesson learned the hard way anyplace else. Keep your water on site at all costs and make sure any capital improvement project does a ROI analysis of what these systems actually cost to repair and replace and what tax revenue - if any - will be created by new development to pay for them. My job is to educate. Anyone interested in further research in this area should visit the Strong Towns website here: http://www.strongtowns.org/

End Part 2