Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Marty Zawarski: Stormwater Management is Number One Priority
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