3rd Street Dam Public Meeting, comments will close to PennDOT
Last night’s meeting for public comment on the 3rd Street Dam design began at 7:00 PM and ended at 8:30 PM. Over 70 residents packed into the borough council chambers in Media, PA, and overflowed into the hallway.
In attendance were 6 of the 7 borough council members (Monica Simpson was absent), and:
- John Harrison, engineer from Schnabel Engineering, who is designing the dam
- Quentin Larson, from from Larson Engineering, responsible for designing the roadway
- Richard Riesinger, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Dam Safety
- Sidney New, from Gannet-Fleming, representing PennDOT as manager for the project
This meeting was the one and only time for Media residents to give feedback publicly to PennDOT on the dam design and roadway design to PennDOT. According to John Harrison and Sidney New, the public comment portion of this project will close one week from the date of this meeting on August 10th, and according to Mr. Harrison, the meeting covered their legal requirement for public input in the design.
The general consensus of comments fro the public were largely that:
- Traffic flow must be mitigated and slowed down
- Safety and access to the park were of high importance, and
- The aesthetics of the dam design and its impact on the natural environment needed dramatic improvement.
Some residents asked why the dam had to be reopened, and expressed concerns about ownership.
The meeting began with the introduction of PA State Senator Dominic Pileggi who announced that the RCAP grant for $650,000 had been awarded based on being approached by Media Borough council almost a year ago regarding funding for the borough’s portion of the dam. Peter Williamson (as Borough Council President) and Monika Rehoric met with Senator Pileggi last year on July 14th, 2011 in order to procure the funds, according to Mr. Williamson.
The meeting consisted of a technical presentation by Mr. Harrison and Mr. Larson which covered the design, which has been described previously:
- Filled in the downstream slope, removing all trees, and covered with grass,
- Create a metallic spillway grate on the upstream side to collect water, and
- A concrete two-stage spilling basin downstream, eliminating the current waterfall
- A private access sidewalk on the upstream side to enable Broomall’s Lake visitors to cross from the parking lot to the clubhouse without walking on the roadway.
He showed pictures of Martins Dam in Upper Merion Township as a similar dam project completed recently which would resemble the new dam.
Mr. Harrison finished by giving a status of the stages of the approval by PennDOT.
The design presentation by Mr. Larson outlined three “alternative designs,” which were variations in the curbing and size of the roadway. No alternative designs to the dam were presented.
Mr. Reisinger, from the Department of Environmental Protection, Dam Safety added additional history to the project:
“The dam was actually declared an unsafe dam in 1980 by the U.S. Army Core of Engineers as part of their inspection, following the direction of President Carter… DEP’s job was to work with the owner, or owners, to try to get the dam upgraded. There’s been a long issue to find out who actually owns it and … I don’t … have purview to how that’s been settled but I don’t think there’s been a complete settlement of ownership yet. Maybe I’m wrong if there has been.”
Borough Council President Pete Alyanakian interjected with Jim Cunningham, “It’s settled.”
“Whenever you’re dealing with courts and things … it takes a long time. In Pennsylvania there are 780 dams, similar to this. Of those 780, I would say this is the top ten worst looking dams, structurally deficient dams in the state… We’re looking forward to finally getting the dam fixed there… that meets safety requirements and provides a safe structure for 50 years or more to come. DEP’s involvement will be looking at, reviewing any environmental permitting aspects of the project and also looking at dam safety criteria.”
Finally, Sidney New, of Gannet-Fleming, representing PennDOT as manager for the project spoke regarding PennDOT’s involvement in the project. In short, he stated that because 80% of the project is funded by PennDOT, and because the additional funding, the road design must also go through the PennDOT process.
After the technical presentation, public comment began with Pete Alyanakian asking the public for comments and adding “I would encourage you to ask one question and address it to council, and we will direct to to the … right engineer… Let’s limit it to one question per person.” He then expressed a desire for questions to stick to the topics of the design of the project and the status of the project.
Several members of the public stood up and expressed their opinions about the project:
Paul, from 4th Street, asked if there had been any consideration to the aesthetics of the project, and the surrounding area. He stated that the “country road environment” where the dam is conflicts with the “big metal grates” and a box sticking up from the lake and the size of the berm, “I just wonder if this is a direction that is … appropriate for this kind of small town.”
John Harrison replied: “To the extent that PennDOT will fund those aesthetics, I think they will, but there are limitations to what they’ll pay for… there’s many things they could pay for … but the money is not there.”
Pete Alyanakian asked if trees could be placed on the grassy berm, which had been addressed in previous meetings, but the answer from Mr. Harrison was still “no” due to the roots creating water passageways disrupting the dam structure.
James, from 3rd Street, asked about the fact that Upper Providence has no sidewalks and hoped to keep sidewalk access to the dam. His concern was pedestrian access, and asked that “we don’t lose the privilege of being able to walk to the park and use it.” After clarification, he indicated he meant creating a sidewalk up 3rd Street to Upper Providence.
“If a sidewalk went to the other side, if there was a pathway into the park, PennDOT would provide funding to the sidewalk to the end of the project, and the sidewalk funding is limited to the sidewalk.”
Trip, from 4th Street, reiterated concerns about access to the park during construction. Mr. Harrison replied that he estimated the entrance to be closed for approximately one year.
Scott, from Upper Providence,
“It seems here that this is a transportation project which was prioritized by dam safety and since it’s clear that the bridge is going to re-open to traffic … has there been any consideration to traffic control and the number of cars going through there based on the amount of pedestrian traffic and bike traffic that use the bridge now and the fact that it has been closed for 13 years? There’s a lot of traffic on Highland Avenue, there are 50 houses going in on Highland Avenue now, and new intersections being cut on highland avenue by Toll Brothers. If we have to have the bridge and it has to be a transportation project … is there consideration for the amount of traffic and traffic flow in and out of Media and the volume of cars on 3rd Avenue.”
Pete Alyanakian responded,
“Certainly that will be a consideration. We haven’t had a traffic study done there in 13 years. It’s going to be kind of hard to gauge how much traffic is going to be crossing that bridge … I’ve been on council for 12 years, and the impact of that bridge being closed has caused numerous traffic concerns throughout the borough, from the Orange Street people who get the plethora of overspill from the dam being closed.”
Stephanie Gaboriault, from Parks Edge Lane, stated it would be difficult to limit herself to one question and indicated she had three typed pages of questions from herself and other concerned residents. Her concerns were regarding preserving the historical state of the dam, or restoring it to its natural state. Her question was “What other options were considered? Are there other ways this could be designed in keeping more with the neighborhood?” She received applause from the crowd.
She then listed the options suggested by other residents:
- Breaching the dam
- Restoring the dam to a natural waterway
- Repairing the existing dam
- Constructing a concrete dam which did not impact the park as much
- Creating a pedestrian bike bridge only
- Restoring the waterfall to its original stature
- Alternative bridge designs, such as a covered bridge
Finally, she referenced pictures shown of the Marten’s dam recently renovated and indicated she really did not want the dam to look like that.
Mr. Harrison replied that in 1998 alternative options were considered, however the documents related to alternatives had not been posted yet. He stated that historical studies had been done in the 2000s, and additional documents to be posted tomorrow. He stated that restoring the existing dam would not support the current water demands. As for the covered bridge option, PennDOT would consider replacing a covered bridge that existed, but because it does not it would not build one.
Terry, from 4th Street, stated that we were in a Catch-22 situation where PennDOT will fix the dam, which is a good idea, but it would open 3rd Street to vehicular traffic, which he believed was a bad idea. The crowd applauded at his sentiment. He stated he favored a plan that was best for Media and the planet would be a plan which supports hikers and bikers and critters, not SUVs spewing pollution and creating danger to children around the park. His question is, “If it has be a road, is there any legal reason why it can’t be one lane or one way?”
The answer from Sidney New was that because the road is a borough road, it can make it one way or one lane. If the road was one-way, it would be legal to be one lane. It could not be a two-way, one lane bridge because there is too much traffic. He stated the traffic estimates were 400 cars per day.
An unidentified resident stated that the lake is a reservoir and habitat of our native animals, plants, birds and wildlife. “Will there be an impact on the wildlife?” She mentioned the loss of woods due to the Toll Brothers development. She also stated that adding traffic on 3rd Street was unwelcome, and that the effect on the wildlife was important. She received a round of applause from the audience.
Robert, from Upper Providence, mentioned access to the park and the three entrances, stating that the easiest access to the park was where the dam is, and asked to keep the gradual slope there to allow residents and kids to access the park easily.
Lisa, from 3rd Street, asked if Media Residents had been given the opportunity to weigh in the design of the dam, asking “Will we get the opportunity to vote on it, or is it a done deal?”
Pete Alyanakian replied that “That was the whole point of tonight’s meeting. To get the public up to speed on where we are in the design process. The one thing that the public can affect, if I’m not mistaken, is the roadway … the cartway is the one aspect of this project that Media Borough has influence over.”
Sidney New added, “It’s the borough’s street, if you want to make it a one-way street, that’s your decision.”
An elderly gentleman then commented that opening the bridge would allow people from the courthouse get to the hospital more quickly in an emergency. He also said that no one had mentioned anything about the aesthetics of the historic lake, where he used to get his ice from before refrigeration, and that no one had addressed concern about the lake. He received a round of applause from the audience.
Steve, from 3rd Street, complained about the concrete blocking the road, and said that no one did maintenance to the bridge since he’s lived there in 13 years and that is why it is such disrepair. He was in favor of leaving the bridge closed.
Mr. Harrison retorted that in order to be repaired and paid for by PennDOT, it has to be a road.
He stated that in cases similar to this, where the repairs have not been made, the state has gone in and breached the dam and charged the owners for breaching the dam. He said that the only reason why the state has not done that in the case of the 3rd Street Dam, is because there are utilities running through the dam, making it very difficult. He said that if the borough decided to make it a pedestrian pathway, there would be no funding for that.
Pete Alyanakian said that estimates for breaching the dam would be be around $1 million or more, and that the cost of that would be on the Borough.
Susan, from West Front Street, commented that white noise from the current waterfall helped to drown out loud wedding music from Broomall’s Lake Country Club. She was happy to hear about the option for a one-way street, and asked if a narrower street would save more of the park by having a narrower waterway, and perhaps change the design to a concrete dam to have a waterfall to see and hear.
Another resident then asked for Council to make comments on next steps regarding process and public input into decisions.
“Well, this is our first step, really, our second step in the process. We’ll have a meeting tomorrow night, we’ll talk about it and see what our next steps will be. If another public meeting is needed we’ll certainly have it … we’ll … continue to forge away.”
Another elderly gentleman stood up and said it would be insane to make it a one-way street, and saying “We’re only going to get one shot at this project.”
Michael Kinsley, a member of the Planning Commission and resident on Olive Street, asked about the sidewalk and asked if PennDOT would include that or not in their plans.
Pete Alyanakian responded that he felt the sentiment of all of council was to have curbing “on our side” stating that Borough Manager Jeff Smith would have to reach out to the Upper Providence township manager, stating the only way it will work is if Upper Providence was cooperative. He also stated that whether the funds were coming from PennDOT, the borough would pay for curbs if they decided they wanted it.
Mr. New clarified that PennDOT would only pay for curbing within the project boundaries, only if the curbing would connect to another curb, stating it was a legal requirement for the disabled. Mr. Kinsley then asked if the plan could consider adding a sidewalk later, in case the joining sidewalk was not completed before the project broke ground.
Hayden, from Ridley Creek Road, pointed out that the Toll Brothers development would be putting in sidewalks on Kirk Lane and Highland Avenue and perhaps that would be a good time to approach Upper Providence about extending the sidewalks into Media.
Stuart, from West End Avenue, asked for aesthetic enhancements to the bridge by adding stamped, or dyed concrete.
Robin, from 4th Street, asked for written responses to the questions that Stephanie Gaboriault had compiled of residents feedback on the bridge. She then asked anyone interested in getting more involved to find Friends of Glen Providence Park on FaceBook.
Ms. Gaboriault, referencing the request of Borough Council President Pete Alyanakian to pose only one question, asked if the questions she had submitted prior to the meeting would be considered a part of the official record. John Harrison stated that they would prepare answers to the questions.
Kathy, from Park’s Edge Lane, said that “The county treats the park as a poor stepchild. They barely maintain the park as it is.” and referencing the grass berm downstream from the dam, stated, “I could just see this becoming an overgrown, weeded, tick-infested area where our children and the pets are getting into, and just becoming an eyesore.”
Pete Alyanakian replied:
“Not to defend the County, but as a park board member, that park is the most difficult park to maintain because of the steep slopes in nature. You can’t get bucket trucks down there to cut trees down, it’s very, very difficult to get any maintenance vehicles even down into that park…”
Another resident asked regarding opening a road which has been closed for 16 years, asked “Who’s responsibility [is it] to make sure it’s safe and that people coming out of the park … don’t get run over by someone flying over that bridge out of Media?” He received a round of applause.
Mr. New reiterated that because it was a PennDOT project, it went through the PennDOT process, which requires a safety review.
Kent Davidson, Media, PA News editor and resident on 3rd Street, asked Mr. Alyanakian if they had performed traffic studies to actually study the effects of the loss of the bridge around town.
Pete Alyanakian replied:
“No. I’ve lived here my whole life and I can assure you that the traffic patterns have changed around that area, without having to do a traffic study.”
He then asked about the ownership issue and stated he was surprised that PennDOT was unaware of its resolution, and asked for clarification of the ownership.
Alyankian: “The County and Broomall’s equally own the dam, Media Borough owns the cartway.”
Jim Cunningham: “Ordered in the Court of Common Pleas, signed by Judge Proud …”
Davidson: “So, I also heard PennDOT say previously, that if we did not go forward with the dam project, they would breach the dam and charge the owners for that. So technically, if they own the dam, we would owe nothing for them to breach it, is that correct? … based on that logic you just told me?”
Cunningham: I guess you could say that in theory.
Davidson: So we can take on this project, or … we can let the owners take care of it. Does that, seem clear?
Cunningham: In truth, they’re not going to do it, it’s not going to happen.
Davidson: Ultimately, the state would take over, and it’s not our problem, correct?
Cunningham: It’s a problem between the state, the county, and the swim club, that’s correct. And more years of litigation, nothing’s gonna happen.
After further back and forth, Mr. Cunningham dismissed, “If you’d like to make a political speech, come back tomorrow night.”
A resident who lives downstream and is the owner of a covered bridge adjoining the park, asked what would be done with the storm runoff, as it affected his covered bridge. Mr. Harrison said the the storm water load would not be reduced with the new dam. Mr. Riesinger added, “It is not the intent of this project to address flood protection at all. The design objective is to keep the status quo.”
Lastly, Robin, from 4th Street, said:
“I don’t know much about political speeches, but I wanted to hear the last question answered … which is if folks don’t really want the road open and the borough doesn’t own the structure … why isn’t the county here, why isn’t the swim club here, and why have we taken on the responsibility for something … and I know there’s been years of wrangling, and I’m sure it must be very satisfying … and then people show up and say we don’t want the project, but that was new information to me about … the borough just owns the surface … and if the state wants to breach the dam, then breach the dam especially if people are speaking out that that’s become a part of the park… So much time has passed, public sentiment has shifted. And wondering why that thread of conversation was shut down so quickly… and maybe it’s about politics or something… But it does seem like a legitimate question … why do we need to go forward with it?”
Peter Williamson responded by stating that the settlement with the County and Broomall’s Lake Country Club was done artfully, and that ownership was never addressed, but that responsibility going forward was addressed. He said that in response to the question from Mr. Davidson, that the settlement was in the context of the lawsuit, and if we abandon the settlement, the lawsuit and the question of ownership could be reopened, and that Borough Council feared that further lawsuits would decide that Media Borough was the owner of the dam. He stated that the settlement was not perfect, but few things are.