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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bethlehem Tp Comm'rs To Battle Stormwaters

"Hope Road never Gives Up," says the sign held by
Bethlehem Boating Club's Allen Koszi, Jr. 
During the last primary election, Bethlehem Township Commissioner Micahel Hudak actually took to Facebook to deride three of his colleagues seeking re-election. His arch nemesis, Tom Nolan, was forced out as President. It's safe to say that members of this divided board won't be sending each other any Christmas cards. But at their July 20 meeting, they unanimously agreed that it's time to do something about the Township's stormwater problem before the whole township is washed down the Lehigh River or ends up in Freemansburg.

Over 50 people, including volunteer firefighters and a large contingent from the Bethlehem Boating Club, packed the house. A group of Ninth Street residents who have experienced broken windows caused by water pressure are so concerned that they asked distinguished Bethlehem Attorney Tom Maloney to join them at the meeting.

At least 50 people concerned bout stormwaters attended. 
At the meeting's onset, President Marty Zaworski delivered a speech (you can read it below) to tell the group that  "I am making this issue, storm water, my number one priority in making our township a better community." He noted that it seems that we are now getting hundred year storms several times every year, and for too long, Bethlehem Township has failed to address the problem. "I will not tolerate a government that is unresponsive to the concerns of the residents," he remarked. "We must do something, anything we can do, to control water runoff in a better and more efficient manner will have an impact."

Att'y Tom Maloney complimented Board
For once, this divided board was in total agreement. "I know the heartache everybody goes through," sympathized Michael Hudak, but he added that the solution "is going to be very expensive." Tom Nolan, who pioneered a stormwater study about ten years ago, noted that much of the Township was developed in the 1980's, when there were no stormwater controls."Nature is in control, not the township," he concluded. Phil Barnard stated there was consensus. "We are as a family, a community, working together to address these issues." Pat Breslin added that it's "only a matter of coming up with the right plan."

On June 15, in the middle of a meeting, between four and five inches of rain fell within the Township over the course of just three hours. Entire sections of roadway were washed out as the Township ran out of barricades to warn passing motorists. The township spent $140,000 in emergency road repairs.

In a memo to Commissioners, Manager Melissa Shafer noted that there were complaints from 37 different areas within the township. In addition, there were 15 sinkholes. "Impervious areas, lack of stormwater infrastructure in our older neighborhoods, undersized existing stormwater facilities and the shrinking capacity of Nancy Run Creek all contribute to the flooding issues," she reported.

Zawarksi stated that if you drew a 400' radius through each of the 37 problem areas and colored it orange, the entire township would be bathed in orange.

One of Zawarski's proposals calls for the possibility of a fee, possibly based on assessment, that would target every property owner. Even exempt properties like St. Luke's and Northampton Community College would be forced to contribute under recent revisions to state law.

Attorney Maloney, who confessed he does not go out at night anymore, told Commissioners that "I've been rewarded. It appears to have your highest priority." He recommended that Commissioners stop beating themselves up about failures in the past. "Put your character at issue and promptly seek remedies," he advised.

Just in case Commissioners needed to hear more about Waterworld, people share their stories.

Richard Straubuller spoke of the poorly maintained retention pond in his Wagner Farms condo, a new development that is not quite a dozen years old. He complained of clogged grates and trees growing up in the pond. He had to chase two boys away from cleaning the grates out of concern for their safety. He has complained to the Township three times, to no effect.

Suzanne Van Billiard, who lives on Kelchner Avenue, complained that she has been asking the township for help for 22 years. "Our house becomes an island," she declared. Though the Township is supposed to maintain a nearby swale,  Van Billiard insists it has done nothing and that pieces of her property are literally cut away during storms. Over the years, storm waters have carried a 260-pound sand box to what's left of her yard, along with someone's shed. She has even been the recipient of copy fish washed out of someone's pond.

Allen Koszi spoke on behalf of the Bethlehem Boating Club, which is at the terminus of Hope Road. Tyne next stop after that is the Lehigh River. In 2011, Hurricane Irene wiped out most of Hope Road. Koszi noted that PennDOT installed a swale that parallels Hope Road, but it stops short. Abandon hope, all ye who transgress beyond that point during a downpour. This failure cost his club $5,500 for repairs following the June 15 storm, where access to the club was washed out.

Some of the regulars were in no mood to applaud Commissioners.Barry Roth called the proposed study a "waste of time." Chetwin Terrace resident Wayne Kresge was unhappy that he had come to meetings for two years before anything happened. "Why has it taken two years?" he demanded. "It goes in one ear and out the other," added Roy Roth.. Martin Comer even insulted the residents who came. "Nice to see all the people here," he started out, sweetly enough. "Where were you when all the developers came?" he zinged.

Later in the meeting, Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to join Freemansburg in seeking a stormwater planning grant, with half of the money coming from Northampton County's newly established Community Investment Partnership Program and the other half coming from the state. This grant would deal with the area along the intersection of Willow Park Road and Easton Avenue, which becomes a raging river during downpours. It us is where Debra LaForm was swept away by stormwaters in 1977.


Anonymous said...

No sympathy for the "boat club" gang. They have always thought they owned the Delaware near their club. They are a pain in the ass to people boating in that area. Elitists' getting a taste of their own medicine. Karma to the rescue.

Bernie O'Hare said...

While I have never boated with the stinkpots like you who don't know how to sail, I used to run nearly every day in that area as a younger man. I found the crew to be very nice and engaging. If you want to see real elitists on the sea, you must get out of your rowboat and into salt water.

Anonymous said...

Another Allentown School District scandal in today's paper. If only Allentown had another investigative reporter like you. When will parents demand superintendent's resignation?

Anonymous said...

You are obviously trolling. If you knew what you were talking about, you would know on which river this club is.

Anonymous said...

Elitists on the Deleware?

Anonymous said...

"I'm not so arrogant as to believe man can control storm water."
Commissioner Michael Hudak

Anonymous said...

Who takes this blow hard seriously?
They let this terrible situation languish for decades.

Anonymous said...

It is pathetic that these people need so desperately to be reelected to a dogcatcher position that they will not raise taxes to keep our community safe and functional. I moved to Bethlehem Township because I believed it was a community that would provide a good standard of living compared to surrounding communities. I believed it was on the uptick. I was wrong. I will be moving at some point, I can't spend the rest of my life in such a dysfunctional place.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this right, they made the mess themselves by allowing development on all of their farm fields and open space and NOW they are tired of it and they are going to do something?

And the people in attendance believe this drivel, even after they vote to destroy the Last open space (green Pond area) and allow more development?

They should all be voted out of office

Anonymous said...

12:50 - The article states that most of the issues arise from development done in the 80's (30 years ago) before stormwater management. All the new developments you are moaning about have detention ponds and other preventative measures. (They don't have sidewalks either.)

Anonymous said...

Bull. What about all the new developments since 2000 all over the township.

Anonymous said...

Guy got the river wrong but5 the club thinks it owns that portion of the Lehigh. Elitists'.

Anonymous said...

^ Dope.

Anonymous said...

^Double Dope

Anonymous said...

I agree with other posters. Keep paving over more land that used to farms fields and woods and see where the water goes. Retention ponds are not going to fix the problem. A 100'x100' pond does not take the place of a 100 acre farm. This is not isolated to just Bethlehem Twp. It's time to stop all the building black topping and paving

Anonymous said...

Look, we have an armchair engineer here. You have no idea what you are talking about.