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Borough Council Votes 5-2 to move forward with dam replacement

May 17

Borough Council Votes 5-2 to move forward with dam replacement

In the May 17th, 2012 legislative session, Borough Council voted in 5-2 in favor of sending a letter to PennDOT saying we were moving forward with dam replacement. The exact resolution, made by Monika Rehoric, was:

I move that the Borough of Media notify the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation in writing on May 18, 2012 that the direction of the Third Street Project is as follows: consistent with the Stipulation and Order dated May 26, 2011 and entered on the docket in the matter of Borough of Media v. County of Delaware and The Media Swimming and Rowing Club, the existing Third Street dam is to be replaced with another dam structure that has both a vehicular component and a pedestrian component.

The motion was then amended by Paul Robinson, and seconded by myself (Kent Davidson):

Said letter to PennDOT will also state: ”Media Borough will continue to meet with and discuss alternatives to the Stipulation and Order dated May 26, 2011 with Broomall’s Lake Country Club and Delaware County in order to fully explore reducing the costs of this project to PennDOT and Pennsylvania taxpayers, and to work towards resolution of the issue of ownership of the Third Street Dam.”

The amendment was voted down 2-5, with Paul Robinson and myself (Kent Davidson) voting in favor of the amendment.

To clarify my position:

  • I am not against a roadway.
  • I am not against putting a dam in place on 3rd Street.
  • I am against doing so with no clear ownership of the structure legally agreed upon.
  • If possible, if we can reduce the impact on the park, and reduce the financial burden on all three parties, I would be in favor of that.

In my discussions with PA DEP and PennDOT in the past week, I believe solutions exist which may produce a winning solution for all three parties. I am very much aware that Broomall’s Lake Country Club (of which my family is a non-equity member) has needs and concerns with this project, and my vote against this was simply because we were given time by PennDOT to work on alternatives, and I don’t believe we have truly explored these alternatives in any meaningful way.

Here’s the statement I made at the meeting:

Stipulation

If I were presented with this document, I would not vote in favor of signing it, as it contains absolutely no protections whatsoever for any interest of the Borough, and fails to resolve the issue of ownership, which is what the court case was about. It is my opinion that the stipulation signed by Media Borough has some serious disadvantages to the Borough in both the short term and the long term.

  • For one, we, as your representatives, are compelled to build a dam despite the majority of stakeholders surveyed by the CAC who showed a preference for dam removal.
  • In addition, if PennDOT funding is cut, politics change, or the grant money becomes unavailable, we will still be required to spend $3.7M of Media Borough taxpayer’s money to build the dam – without funding.
  • Even if the dam were to have a catastrophic failure before we reach the construction phase, Media Borough will still be required to spend $3.7M of Media Borough taxpayer’s money to rebuild the dam – without funding.
  • The Stipulation only allows making changes to the structure with approval of all three parties, which effectively means that any change residents may request of us is up to Broomall’s Lake Country Club to approve. The County, to their credit, has remained neutral on any requests we’ve made of them.
  • Finally, to be clear to everyone: The stipulation does not solve the issue of ownership. Our solicitor and special counsel have confirmed this to us on multiple occasions. We will be building a $3.7 million dollar dam which no one will own, and leaves Media Borough, our children, and their children open to legal lawsuits in the future.

To me, it is irresponsible to move forward without solving this issue, and I believe we are kicking the can down the road for another generation to deal with.

Citizens Advisory Committee

I want to thank all of the members of the CAC who worked so diligently on the report to Borough Council on the 3rd Street Project. What that report said to me is that the majority of every single group interviewed and surveyed showed a preference for dam removal and stream restoration. As I said in March, I was elected to represent the interests of the Borough, and I will fight for what residents want, and while the survey provided one facet of this decision, the other factors which I will outline now also contributed to my decision.

The CAC produced a top-notch report which included a section regarding questions that Borough Council should consider in their decision. As a courtesy to their hard work, I will take the time to address each of these:

  1. The legal liability of the Stipulation in the long term: As I stated, the answer is that Media Borough is still exposed to a long term liability regarding the ownership of the dam.
  2. Cost to taxpayers: We are unable to spend significantly fewer taxpayer dollars on this project. I would prefer to follow resident’s desires and spend $1.5M of PennDOT money for dam removal and stream restoration, but we will likely spend upwards of $3.7M to rebuild a high hazard dam. Many will say that this isn’t our money, but they are lying. We all pay state taxes, and we all benefit from our roads. Pennsylvania, unfortunately, ranks lowest in the country for bridge safety overall. That’s not dam safety, but bridge safety. That means we are taking $2M away from a failing bridge project. As a public servant, I believe it is my duty to spend wisely whenever possible. However, we are bound by the court order to move forward with dam rebuilding.
  3. About Conveying cost information to BLCC and Delaware County: I believe that BLCC and the County are aware of their financial commitments in perpetuity regarding this project. For your information, the DEP has told me that they will require a bond of BLCC for 50% of the cost to breach the dam and remediate their lake, and BLCC and the County will be required to pay for annual inspections, mowing of the lawn, and general maintenance of the dam. The bond secured by BLCC will be reassessed and renewed every 10 years. Finally, the requirements of the stipulation will be recorded against the land of BLCC and the County Park in perpetuity.
  4. Dam removal cost: We have acquired cost figures for this, and a fair estimate places the amount between $750,000 and $1.5M to remove the dam and restore the stream. However, we are unable to pursue this option due to the Stipulation.
  5. Examining “Bridge” Costs: We have received rough figures for construction of a bridge including dam removal, and the range is $2.8M to upwards of $10M to build a bridge. Long term costs for this would increase after 20 years, however, and would have to be evaluated. We have also been advised by our professionals that owning a bridge is a bad idea. Given that we had unanimous support from Upper Providence regarding their support for a road, my assumption is that they would be willing to financially support maintenance of any structure which connects Upper Providence to Media Borough.
  6. Question regarding the financial resources available to BLCC: BLCC entered into this Stipulation willingly, and it is not our role to verify their long-term financial stability.
  7. Sediment: I have researched this issue, and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has stated that the sediment would not pose an issue to their permitting process. In addition, our engineers have verified that it will not be issue during the construction process as well, as they create structures which will keep the sediment in place while they build the dam behind it. American Rivers estimated that Broomall’s Lake will fill in with sediment within 10 to 15 years making it more of a marsh, placing the impetus on the Country Club to spend between $250,000 and $1.2M to maintain their property.
  8. Stormwater: I believe that any structure in that location will be designed to handle the existing stormwater we have in town, and will be engineered to support that in the coming decades.
  9. Landscape Architect: While I think our options are very much limited regarding the dam face, I believe hiring a landscape architect and pursuing alternate aesthetics for the project would be worthwhile.
  10. Look at university research projects. While I am a firm supporter of protecting our watershed, the Stipulation prevents us as a representative governing body from having much say in that. The downstream wetlands will be essentially “traded” for improvements to wetlands in other areas. I will work to protect the park as much as possible, and protect the wetlands as much as possible, but remember that if we need to change anything agreed upon in the Stipulation, we would need to get approval from BLCC and Delaware County, severely limiting our decision-making power.
  11. Unforeseen consequences. I am aware of decisions having consequences, and in my opinion, the decision before us today has some very serious consequences. The decision made last year by Council in signing the Stipulation has very serious consequences which are now inherited by this Council.

Timing

Last month I stated that we needed to get on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for 2013, and I was mistaken. Mr. Smith corrected me afterwards.

We are on Pennsylvania’s Transportation Improvement Program or “TIP” for 2013, scheduled for construction in 2015. The Pennsylvania TIP program is a list of projects renewed every two years which will receive state funding for construction. We are on the TIP for next year, and I have full intentions to move forward with the project in the best interests of our residents.

This vote tonight was prompted by a verbal request from the PennDOT representative asking for a direction of the project.

I met yesterday with PennDOT as Chair of our Finance Committee along with President Hall, Borough Manager Jeff Smith, and our engineer. The PennDOT representative made it clear to us that, to him, an acceptable action for us to take today would be to say “We are negotiating among the three parties.”

In addition, he made it very clear that while Media Borough is competing for funding from other projects, that as soon as we bring him final construction documents, they would, and I quote, “scramble to get the money” to Media Borough.

Finally, PennDOT stated clearly that their preference is for the least expensive option, which, as we all know, is dam removal and stream restoration.

I believe it was time well spent to engage the public via the CAC in the first few months regarding this project, and I personally believe that we should take the time now to work towards the best solution for all parties involved.

Wrapping up

Let me summarize some facts about this project:

  • Both PennDOT and PA DEP, the funders and regulatory agency for this project, expressed a preference in going with the lowest-cost option, which would be dam removal and stream restoration.
  • Media Borough Residents showed the strongest support for dam removal and stream restoration, and the strongest opposition to dam replacement in the CAC Survey.
  • The Stipulation does not resolve primary issue regarding the court case between Media Borough and the other parties: who owns this structure.

Let me just say that I believe a solution still exists which:

  • grants access for emergency vehicles across 3rd Street
  • retains a body of water for Broomall’s Lake Country Club members to enjoy, and
  • minimizes the impact on the park, and potentially
  • solves the long-term ownership issues

I would recommend that this council take the time to pursue alternative options before communicating a direction in writing this evening.

It is my belief that we have not done everything in our power to fight for what I believe is best for Media Borough and its residents.

And do not be mistaken: There is no risk to Media Borough in taking time now to explore other options. PennDOT has made it clear that they support our efforts to find lower-cost alternatives.

Much weight may be placed on this vote tonight, but in my opinion, we are starting down a very long, multi-year process. I hope we decide to take the first step having looked into each and every option available to us, and working with the other parties to get the best outcome for everyone.

Regardless of what our direction is, I promise to work towards greater transparency, work to make this project as aesthetically pleasing as possible, preserve Media’s parks, and save Pennsylvania taxpayers as much money as possible.

Thank you.

6 comments

  1. Kate /

    Thank you for having the conviction to vote against this premature resolution. It does not appear that all has been done to find an alternate solution for this project that would be better for the community, the swim club, the park and the taxpayers. I do not see why Paul Robinson’s amendment was not passed, or why Council did not heed PennDOT’s encouragement to take more time to negotiate.

    I wish there were more integrity and courage from elected officials at all levels of government. You and Paul won my strong loyalty with your statements last night, and through your active efforts to find a better resolution that could undo some of the harm from last year’s ill-conceived Stipulation Agreement.

    And, thank you for replying to the CAC’s recommendations in their report. I admire the CAC for their incredible dedication, and their recommendations deserved a reply.

  2. Brendan O'Riordan /

    Excellent layout of the facts Kent. Thank you. In my line of work it is essential to define the scope of a project and who exactly will take ownership of it in the long term. Seems no different here. I find it disturbing that so many people have not taken time to understand the facts of this situation. So many who have complained of “wasting taxpayers’ money” because of the long period of time the bridge has been out seem to be the same people now who are hell bent on replacing the dam and doing so without establishing clear ownership of said dam.

  3. John /

    Kent,

    As I understand it and noted by Council President Hall that the court order and stipulation was a comprimise agreement as no one (all three parties involved)wanted to determine ownership of the damn, this was by design.

    We all understand the need for dialogue but at some point the dialogue has to come to an end. After 16 years we have to move on. As you want to save taxpayer money this project increases in cost by 5% per year or $150,000.00. Changing the scope of the project could have serious consequences on the funding involved.

    I do not understand how you can say you are not against a roadway when you signed a petition organized by FROG’s that requests a greenway and removal of the roadway.

    I am also concerned as an elected official that safety was not mentioned once in your speech. When you listen to all of the others speak, with the exception of Robinson, they mentioned pros and cons but for you, you did not have one positive thing to say about the roadway, such as safety. Perhaps the safety of your neighboring community is not important to you.

  4. Kent /

    @John: Thanks for your salient points. Let me address them:

    Dialogue: I agree, there has to be a stopping point for the dialogue; however, the fact is that the Stipulation was signed a year ago without all of the information – that alternatives to the dam will be funded by PennDOT. With this new information, it makes sense to act on the sentiment of the residents and continue discussions. PennDOT made it very clear that there is no risk to continuing the conversation with the parties to find a lower-cost solution. The amendment proposed included the sentiment to move forward.

    I am not against a roadway, but yes, as a resident I would prefer a greenway. A greenway would allow for emergency vehicle access. My personal preference as a resident is distinct from my actions as an elected official. Note as well that I’m not advocating a greenway here, I’m trying to get something closer to what residents prefer, as well as keeping in mind the long term legal issues for the borough.

    Please note that all four options presented by the CAC in their survey included access for emergency vehicles across the dam.

    The “Emergency Vehicle” access argument, unfortunately, plays on people’s fears that they will somehow not be served by emergency vehicles because of the extra time to get to Kirk Lane.

    The Fire Chief said at last Thursday’s meeting that the difference in distance is 3/10 of a mile without the bridge.

    As elected officials and caretakers of Media residents’ taxes, we need to weigh whether saving 1-2 minutes of emergency access time to a handful of homes in Upper Providence is worth spending $3.7M in taxpayer monies. If you measure using Google Maps, Upper Providence fire and police services are closer than Media’s fire and police services, so that argument falls apart for Fire and Police.

    The only service which is 0.3 mile farther away is EMT, which Upper Providence does not provide. For those Upper Providence residents who feel urgently that the extra 1-3 minutes will be lifesaving or not, I don’t think the answer is for Media to build a road to save them a few minutes of lifesaving time. For those residents who are elderly or need immediate care, there are other solutions.

    Finally, while we enjoy the patronage of Upper Providence residents, it’s not my duty to serve those residents’ needs over Media residents. It is the residents of Media who made their preference clear, and it’s my duty to do what I think is in the best interests of Media residents first.

    I would strongly recommend Upper Providence residents to go to their council meetings and discuss their desires with their council, and see if their elected officials are willing to contribute to a solution in a meaningful way.

  5. Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam for the purpose of preserving a private lake for the benefit of a private Country Club?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam to preserve a private lake that the private Country Club can’t even afford to dredge and is slowly devolving into a swamp?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam located next to a public park that is used by hundreds of our residents every day, including our children?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam that a significant majority (63%) of Media residents opposed in a Council-sponsored survey of public opinion?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam that will damage 1.1 acres of public parkland and destroy wetlands in that section of Glen Providence Park?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam when no public or prviate entity (including Media Borough, Delaware County, or Broomall’s Lake Country Club) is willing to assume ownership of the dam?

    Did five Media Borough Council members really just vote to spend $3.8 million of taxpayer funds to replace a high hazard dam because they felt compelled to comply with a legal Stipulation that does not protect Media taxpayers from future legal and financial liability in the event of catastrophic dam failure?

    (Were those five Council members aware that 132 dams failed in the United States between 2005 and 2009?)

    Did five Media Borough Council members just vote to protect the contemporary taxpayers of Media from the short-term risk of litigation while ignoring three generations worth of risk to public safety, to the natural environment, and to future taxpayers?

    Did those five Council members demonstrate vision and leadership last Thursday night? Or did Kent Davidson and Paul Robinson demonstrate vision and leadership by opposing the dam resolution?

  6. Linda Emory Healy /

    Kent Davidson and Paul Robinson, both in their votes and in their comments, made it clear they had considered what was in the long term best interest of borough residents. They understood and articulated what has changed since the signing of the stipulation, while the other Council members did not acknowledge any number of compelling reasons to sit down once more with the parties who signed the stipulation before all the facts were known. Hopefully, future discussions regarding design, cost and liability will be public, as are the dollars paying for the project.