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3rd Street Dam Public Meeting October 13th, 7:00 PM, Part 1: Petition, Peer Review, and Greenway

Oct 13

Borough Council held a public meeting starting at 7:00 PM to discuss the design of the 3rd Street Dam with the engineers, as a follow-up to the August meeting regarding the 3rd Street Dam. All Borough Council members were present, and John Harrison from Schnabel Engineering. No members of PennDOT or PA Department of Environmental Protection were present. Monika Rehoric, a member of the 3rd Street Dam Committee, left the meeting after 45 minutes.

After a brief introduction by President Pete Alyanakian with a request for “questions … not statements not comments that are going to … stories … let’s just try and keep it straight and simple with questions about the dam.”

Paul Indorf of West 4th Street, asked a question which he had asked at the previous working meeting, which is: What has gone on in the 2-3 months since the last meeting to address the concerns brought forth by the public? And as a follow-up, what are we going to do with the outcome of the opinions expressed tonight?

Pete Alyanakian did not directly address his question but responded:

It’s been unprecedented the number of meetings that we’ve had regarding this project in the past 60 to 90 days … to schedule two special meetings on a project of this size is unheard of and I don’t think it’s ever happened in this town. So in terms of communication we’ve set up a third street dam committee which made up of myself, Mr. Williamson, and Ms. Rehoric. We’ve requested all of the information that you have come through that committee … we’ve certainly seen people from the friends group and other groups…. We’ve got a committee, we’re willing to meet with you at any time and a process has been established for … I don’t know, 120 days now. I mean that committee has met for almost two years it’s been constituted.”

Engineering Presentation

After his response, he introduced John Harrison from Schnabel Engineering who covered the dam project in a similar way as he did last meeting.  The primary changes he highlighted based on the feedback from last meeting were:

  • Decorative concrete which mimics the look of stone on the northern dam walls
  • A slightly more attractive fencing around the spillway “black cyclone fencing”

Other items of interest of his presentation:

  • Downhill slope of the dam is preferably a 3-1 slope, but they have negotiated with PennDOT to get a 2.5-1 slope, which will impact the park somewhat less
  • A water main and a gas main run through the dam currently, requiring “a lot of coordination”

He stated on the agreements between the borough, the county, and Broomall’s Lake Swim Club, he stated that the basics of the design, that he felt there “wasn’t a lot of room for variation from the [basics of the design.] We’re down this road and most of it has been approved by the agencies.”

Friends of Glen Providence Questions

Representatives from Friends of Glen Providence Park asked a series of questions.

Stephanie Gaboriault, of Park’s Edge Lane and representing Friends of Glen Providence Park thanked all participants and stated that they were “concerned citizens who care a lot about the park, and have done many hours of research,” and continued by offering their findings as a way to help with the project. She added that they are no only concerned with the dam project, but also the 76 years of park history, the wildlife, and native plants, the natural history of the valley. The Friends of Glen Providence Park has already presented to a middle school in the area and has started an educational program with the Delaware County Institute of Science. She re-iterated that regardless of what happens with the dam that they would continue their stewardship of the park.

Her one question was “What was the timing of the permit application submitted to the state?” John Harrison: “Mid 2012.”

526 Media Residents in favor of a “greenway”

Terry Rumsey from 4th Street introduced himself as a representative of Friends of Glen Providence Park and introduced the acronym FROG for members of his group. He presented a petition which FROG had collected signatures for which outlined the following sentiments:

  • Maximize public participation in the dam design and development
  • Minimize damage to Glen Providence Park, specifically to plant and animal life
  • Create a pedestrian bicycle greenway on the 3rd Street Dam open only to emergency motor vehicles
  • Enhance the beauty of the dam, the bridge, and the surrounding area

He then presented the petition signatures:

  • 526 residents from Media Borough
  • 310 residents from surrounding communities

Upon his announcement, he received a round of applause from the gathered crowd. He added that they collected these signatures in 30 days and given another 30 days they could double that number.

He highlighted the fact that the signatures from Media residents proves that this is not a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) sentiment from just residents in the Western district who did not want the road opened, but rather an overall sentiment from the town population.

He added that it would be foolish for Borough Council to ignore the sentiment of visitors to town who signed the petition, and that it showed that residents wanted to be involved in the design process at a detailed level. He then asked each council member and the mayor if they would support the creation of a citizens advisory council for the 3rd Street Dam, with represenetation from Friends of Glen Providence park, and other groups or individuals?

Eric Stein replied immediately, “I think it’s a good idea.”

Dawn Roe replied, “I think it would depend on what was legally possible and the conversations will be moot if none of this is actually doable according to the agreements that we’ve signed … I wouldn’t have a problem with it as all, I just want to make sure that everybody’s comments and everybody’s feelings … and all the work that you guys have been doing which is amazing, is actually relevant to what is legally possible. But other than that … absolutely.”

Peter Williamson: “Absolutely. Great idea.”

Bob McMahon: “I think you’d have to work out more of the details, but yes.”

Monika Rehoric: “I would support that, too. You’ve already started with the Friends of Glen Providence Park.”

Jim Cunningham: “I have no problem with it.”

Pete Alyanakian: “None here.”

The crowd applauded as Mr. Rumsey sat down and thanked the council members.

Peer Review Requested

Shannon Davidson, resident of West St. and a representative from Friends of Glen Providence Park made the following statement:

We have heard members of Media Borough Council say repeatedly, “There is nothing that can be changed about the dam design.” They point to the constraints of PennDOT, or the engineers, or the Department of Environmental Protection. We wholely agree that the regulations should be heeded, and possibly even exceeded. However, the fact remains that Media Borough is in charge of this project – in official terms, they are the Project Sponsor. The Borough sets the purpose and the goals for the project, and it is up to the engineers to follow the Borough’s directives to the extent possible within the law.

Media Borough contracted Schnabel Engineering to repair the dam and replace the road. And to my knowledge there was no directive to reduce impact on Glen Providence Park.

And the fact is that there are unexplored possibilities to change the design of the dam and reduce its impact on the park. In our own cursory research, we have found some possible options. Why wouldn’t Media Borough want to simply explore those options?

This dam will last, hopefully, 100 years or more, as this old dam has. We have an incredible opportunity to impact the legacy of Media for generations. What statement do we want to make with our actions and with this structure? I encourage Borough Council – the ones in charge – to consider carefully the goals of the project and for whom they are building this dam.

So why not take a moment to reconsider the assumptions, the goals and the impacts of the project? It is my understanding that there is such a process to do this in engineering, and it is called a peer review. It seems very reasonable for a client like Media Borough to get an expert second opinion before moving forward with a massive capital investment of PA taxpayer dollars.

This is no criticism at all of Schnabel Engineering, but rather is standard, prudent practice for complex and expensive projects, and PennDOT and others employ outside contractors and consultants to do peer reviews for them.

A peer review might reveal that everything that could be done to reduce the footprint of the dam has in fact been done in the current design. And that would be money well-spent. And what if a peer review revealed new options, or possibly even cost savings in addition to saving park land? The truth is, we just don’t know what the options are, because they have not been explored. And with a project this big, why not be sure?

Given the feedback from our petition, it is not just a handful of us who care what happens to the park.

I would like to ask each council member if you would support our request to contract an independent professional peer review of the project, with the aim to reduce the impact of the dam reconstruction on Glen Providence Park.

[Editor’s note: Ms. Davidson is married to the editor.]

Pete Alyanakian immediately replied, “We’re not going to sit here and poll individual council members for every question that comes up… that’s just not going to happen.”

Several members of the crowd replied out load, “Why not?”

Alyanakian: “Excuse me. We don’t take individual votes at meetings, that’s just not going to happen.”

He then asked Bob Scott, Borough Solicitor, and John Harrison from Schnabel, for their feedback on the peer review.

John Harrison replied that for this project, the design would be reviewed by PennDOT, a “technical review, ” and indicated that it was somewhat unusual; that usually DEP would do it. As far as peer reviews, he said that “some projects have peer reviews”, and it would be an additional expense borne by the borough.

Some discussion then surrounded the process by which the borough would go through a process to get a peer review together for the dam design. Mr. Harrison indicated that PennDOT also has consultants who do peer review. Eric Stein added that peer review is widely used in academia and then followed up with a question about cost for peer review, as well as asked about the width of the dam as a variable which would affect design cost. Mr. Harrison indicated that 2 lanes were requested in the design and removing the parking lane would reduce the impact. He also indicated the cost of a peer review on the order of $30,000 – $40,000.

Ms. Davidson then pressed Mr. Alyanakian regarding the peer review question. He replied:

“It’s something we’ll take under consideration … we’re not going to sit here and make a decision tonight.”

Peter Williamson added, “To your point … I think that if indeed an independent peer reviewer would address concerns raised by everybody … that would be different than the reviews done by PennDOT … then I think it would make sense.”

Monica Simpson added, “It’s hard to give an answer without knowing the parameters and what would be involved.”

Ms. Davidson added that the original design and intent for the design was to replace the road, and Schnabel was never asked to minimize the impact on the park. She said that there are options such as reducing the height of the dam, the height of the lake which would reduce the horizontal impact on the park.

She received a round of applause from the crowd when she sat down.

Request for the greenway

Robin Lasersohn, spouse of Terry Rumsey who spoke previously, and member from Friends of Glen Providence Park, made a statement regarding the greenway:

I am going to make four brief points and then ask a question. The first point is: Things have changed. Things have changed on the ground since 1998, especially at the bridge itself. And just like Shannon said, it  made perfect sense in 1998 for the goal of the project to be to reopen the road. When you lose something, it’s natural to want to replace it. We’re really not criticizing anyone for that decision, or blaming anyone on council or anyone else for the complexities that made this a protracted process.  But what we’re doing is to try to  share in the years since the roadway has been closed, things have changed at that bridge. People have started walking, biking, hiking, strolling, and otherwise just enjoying that as green, open space.  It’s a beautiful view of the lake and the park and it was wonderful to discover, inadvertently, by accident that it was really nice to have that as a quiet place, and in fact it seems to have become really part of the park experience.

An interesting thing is that hundreds and hundreds of people have moved into this community since that road has closed, and hundreds and hundresd of people have been born in this community, some of whom will be adults by the time they break ground on this project, and they don’t remember that is was not a road anymore … it’s a parkway.

So even though it was the intent of Borough Council to restore something that was lost to the community—which made sense and was the right gesture—the result of building the road now is to take something away that is highly valued and valuable, and appreciated.

The second point is that the greenway is what’s best for the park. It’s just indisputable that the park experience for humans, for animals, and for plant life is superior in the absence of motor vehicles across the Third Street bridge – it prevents air pollution, noise pollution and reduces pressure on animal habitat of the park which is already quite impinged as a result of the development on Kirk Lane.

The third point is that the greenway is the Media way. Media is a walking town, it’s a family-friendly town, it’s a safe town, and a town that has been embracing green values recently. All the stuff that has made this a thriving town in the last few years, like the Clean Energy Program, Fair Trade, the Farmers Market, the Arts Council, Transition Town — even the brilliant idea of closing State Street, our main thoroughfare, to automobiles for Dining Under the Stars and special events on the weekends – these are all environmentally and socially sustainable efforts and the greenway fits right into it, it fits right into that trend that has been attracting people from the entire region to our community and helping us to prosper in a lot of different ways… The strong petition support … proves that the idea is popular and that it is resonating with the people of Media, maybe even more so than we anticipated at Friends of Glen Providence Park.

The final argument, and possibly one of the most important one to those of you making the laws and upholding the laws in Media is that the greenway is legal. Some folks have said that the greenway is all well and good, but that the greenway itself is not legally permissible. We’ve carefully reviewed all of the documents related to this project and have determined that the greenway is consistent with every single one of them. We’ve learned that the PennDOT funding does not require the construction of a road for motor vehicles, even the three-way legal stipulation between the Borough, [Delaware] County, and [Broomall Lake Country Club] and there is simply nothing in it that requires the borough to open a road open to motor vehicles. Bicycles are legally recognized vehicles under Pennsylvania law, and allowing them across that bridge would meet the requirements of the stipulation.

The last point is that the greenway is consistent with the borough’s own comprehensive plan which sets a high priority on encouraging pedestrians within the community.

So, at FROG we believe the greenway is a fabulous opportunity. And that the only thing that is preventing us from seizing it is just holding on to old assumptions. We’d really like you, our leaders,  to look to ahead to the future, and not to the past.

We’d like to ask each of you if you’d support the establishment of a pedestrian and bicycle open greenway with access only to emergency motor vehicles?

She received a round of applause from the audience.

Pete Alyanakian responded by deferring, asking Bob Johnson, borough engineer, to comment:

Bob Johnson: It was my understanding that the road had to be placed back the way it was… at one time.

Ms. Lasersohn: Based on what information?

Johnson: That was the information based on what I received.

Mr. Alyanakian then asked Jeff Smith to help. Mr. Smith said that he was not a lawyer, but that council was advised that a 2-lane road would have to be placed on the dam by their lawyers. He said that it was open to interpretation.

Ms. Lasersohn asked if any of the documents specified that the roadway had to be opened to “motor vehicle traffic” in particular”

Peter Williamson responded, “The answer is no, from my own review … there are some references to vehicular traffic.” He then added:

But there’s two things going on … you’ve got to recognize that the assumption of every party involved in this for … however many years … has assumed that it would be a vehicular road. But, all of the documents that are agreed upon by everyone don’t specify that. So you’ve sort of got both things happening at the same time.

You’ve got your point, which is a narrow, and perhaps legal one … and I agree with you, it doesn’t say anywhere that it has to be a road for motor vehicles … it says it has to be a roadway and PennDOT defines that as something that carries traffic, essentially, and if you look at vehicles … absolutely bikes are vehicles. You could certainly argue that we have that opportunity. Another thing I’d like to point out as far as we know, that the legal agreement that we signed with the county and Broomall’s Lake didn’t specify a particular alternative of the three in your report, John.

So I think we have the opportunity to pursue it. But I also personally think that it will go nowhere without the negotiating and concurrence of the other parties who signed that stipulation.

But I think the opportunity is there, and it’s worthy to pursue it.

Dr. Eric Stein added that the Borough should separate design from use, and outlined that the Borough had full control over how the road is used after it’s built.

He then said he’d like to see a referendum on the issue of the greenway, because he said that there are many pro-vehicle people in Media, and as such the borough should put it to the voters to decide.

[Continued in Part 2 … coming]