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June 3, 2008
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
10 East Church Street – Town Hall
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 – 7:00 PM
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President Donchez called the meeting to order. Pastor Robert Rentler of New Covenant Christian Community Church offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Jean Belinski, Karen Dolan, Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Gordon B. Mowrer, J. William Reynolds, J. Michael Schweder, and Robert J. Donchez, 7.
4. APPROVAL OF MINUTES
The Minutes of May 20, 2008 were approved.
5. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (for public comment on ordinances and resolutions to be voted on by Council this evening)
Sale of Maple Tract to Wildlands Conservancy
Edgar K. Muhlhausen, 536 Wood Street – Apartment 206, observed that although the Maple Tract is beyond the City’s intake structure for surface water not much is known about the groundwater flow pattern in that area. Noting that the Monocacy Creek is fed in part by bubbling springs of very clear, cold water, Mr. Muhlhausen said if any contamination enters the system it would be difficult to control. Control of the Maple Tract by the Nature Conservancy will help to ensure protection of the more general area. Pointing out that City personnel have a big job in taking care of the primary watershed areas, Mr. Muhlhausen stated that fringe areas such as the Maple Tract should be managed by other responsible persons. Mr. Muhlhausen recommended the sale of the Maple Tract to the Wildlands Conservancy so that it is put under their protection and their well-known ability to do so.
David McGuire, 343 North 19th Street, Allentown, representing the Sierra Club of the Lehigh Valley, with 1,800 members in Northampton and Lehigh Counties and in Monroe County that is the site of the Maple Tract, advised that the Sierra Club of the Lehigh Valley urges City officials to support the purchase of the Maple Tract by the Wildlands Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy. Mr. McGuire said the 500 acre tract located in Tunkhannock Township in the Poconos in Monroe County outside of the watershed drainage area of the Bethlehem Authority has exceptional natural resources. The group’s membership has a strong interest in the provision of safe drinking water, protection of natural resources and keeping public lands green wherever possible. Mr. McGuire enumerated that the purchase of the Maple Tract by the Wildlands Conservancy will protect an area of significant natural value by entrusting it to two entities totally focused and experienced in such protection: The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlands Conservancy. PA DCNR is also involved in the transaction; Ensure legal protections for the intention of the transaction. The documents have been reviewed by legal counsel for the Conservancies, the Bethlehem Authority, and Bethlehem Council and the City Solicitor; Provide a protective buffer for a large portion of the Authority's forests and drainage area; Provide an important financial help as the City and Authority deal with difficult financial needs; Ensure that these exceptional public lands remain in trust for the public, insulated from the vagaries of budgets and the states of the economy.
Mr. McGuire noted that since 2000 there has been significant progress in recognition of the need to protect the natural resources of the watershed, which are the best guarantors of the water quality which is the prime concern of the Bethlehem Authority and City, and ultimately of all those who daily drink and use that water. The Bethlehem Authority Board has steadily educated itself on these matters, had solid discussions with state agencies and environmental groups and worked hard to work towards solutions of the underlying financial issues in partnership with the City Administration and Council.
Mr. McGuire highlighted the fact that Bethlehem City Council initiated this change when it voted in 2001 to stop a mindless timbering proposal that threatened the integrity of the watershed. That led to a lengthy review of the forest resource, resulting in a plan of action that is now underway, which promises to keep the timber resource and ensure its future regeneration, while providing for potential income from future thoughtful timber harvesting. It was the City Council which supported the upgrading of the Tunkhannock Creek to an Exceptional Value Stream, giving it more protection under the DCNR. Mr. McGuire noted that tonight Council can take another solid step by supporting the purchase of the Maple Tract, and said that the Sierra Club urges Council to take that positive step.
Frederic Loomis, 971 Bangor Road, program organizer for the Lehigh Valley-Northeast Pennsylvania office of Clean Water Action, said the group has a history of working with the City and its agencies to protect Bethlehem’s drinking water sources. In 2006, Clean Water Action with the support of its local members urged the City to take a proactive stance in declaring the Tunkhannock Creek as an Exceptional Value Stream that is the highest level of protection Pennsylvania can offer. Affirming that was done, Mr. Loomis pointed out this helped to ensure the quality of the drinking water offered by the City remains exceptional. Mr. Loomis recalled at that time the Bethlehem Authority was very open about its needs for capital funding to update the water infrastructure, and was considering the sale of property in the Poconos to generate funding. Mr. Loomis communicated that while the sale of the Maple Tract may not be the absolute ideal it is a measured and appropriate way to a win-win situation, and stated it would put the land out of reach of development. Mr. Loomis continued on to say the sale would provide the City and the Bethlehem Authority with significant funding to accomplish needed work on the City’s water infrastructure; and, it would be in keeping with the City’s and the Authority’s admirable stance on preservation of lands around the Tunkhannock watershed area that is part of Bethlehem’s water supply. On behalf of Clean Water Action and its members, Mr. Loomis said he urges Council to approve the sale of the Maple Tract land to the Wildlands Conservancy without reservation and without contingencies. Highlighting the fact that the ecosystems in the area are remarkable, Mr. Loomis stressed the protection that the Wildlands Conservancy and its allies can provide is exceptional. Mr. Loomis denoted the stance that the City and the Bethlehem Authority have taken regarding the protection of the drinking water sources in the Tunkhannock area have given the organization an example to hold up before others who are considering the sale of ecologically sensitive legal assets. Mr. Loomis asked that City officials not step away from the reputation that Bethlehem has developed as a leader in the area of responsible stewardship of natural resources. Mr. Loomis asked City Council to approve the sale for those who understand the level of stewardship to which the City is already committed.
Robin Beaty, 2535 Main Street, stated she supports the sale of the Maple Tract. Ms. Beaty commented it seems to be a wise and practical measure that other townships might emulate.
Barbara Stout, 526 Wood Street – Apartment 136, recalled that her grandfather shared with her as a child the fact of all the land that was protected at the City’s watershed. Ms. Stout advised she is a member of a preservation community where she is a summer resident just to the north of the Maple Tract, and the community would be very happy to see the Wildlands Conservancy take over the Maple Tract property. Ms. Stout further stated she would be happy to see the sale of the land to the Nature Conservancy and Wildlands Conservancy because the City now needs the money rather than the land.
George Yasko, 1008 Center Street, vice chair of the City’s Environmental Conservation Commission (EAC), read from an except of a letter that the EAC sent to City Council in October 2007 advising that based on the EAC’s preliminary limited review of the issue at that time the EAC recommended that the City seriously consider the sale of a conservation easement of the Maple Tract land to the Nature Conservancy subject to very strict covenants and agreements to protect the water source in perpetuity. Mr. Yasko informed the Members since that time the EAC has subsequently reviewed and discussed the matter in detail and still recommends that City Council approve the sale.
Ellen Johnson, 55 East Church Street, observed it is a rare moment when a number of interests converge and everyone involved benefits. Ms. Johnson noted the Bethlehem Authority gets the money that it needs, the watershed is protected since there are few things more dear than clean drinking water, the City shows that it is forward thinking and cares about the earth, and the land is preserved for forest, wildlife, and for everyone’s children and grandchildren to have recreation there to enjoy. Ms. Johnson urged City Council not to let this opportunity slip away.
Michael Topping, 734 Fire Lane, expressed his agreement with the comments that have been expressed concerning the Maple Tract. As an individual citizen, a member of the EAC, and a member of other environmental groups, Mr. Topping said he is very much interested in seeing this happen.
6. OLD BUSINESS
A. Tabled Items
1. Authorizing Records Destruction – Controller's Office
2. Authorizing Records Destruction – Bureau of Purchasing
3. Authorizing Records Destruction – Department of Water and Sewer Resources
B. Unfinished Business
1. Use Permit Agreement – Youth Athletic Organizations
2. Establishing Article 314 – Security Cameras
3. Amending Non-Utility Capital Budget for:
? Flatiron Garage – Purchase
? Parks and Playground Improvements
4. Political Contributions and Expenditures – Proposed Ordinance
5. Emergency Operations Plan
Golf Course Clubhouse Restaurant
Mrs. Belinski recalled that when the current operator for the Golf Course Clubhouse Restaurant was announced it was noted the individual would be spending about $250,000 to make various improvements, more so than the other applicants. Mrs. Belinski pointed out that in a newspaper article last Wednesday it was reported that the City invested $100,000, gave a low interest loan of $100,000, and applied for more than $200,000 in low interest State loans to help the restaurateur who it was stated invested nearly $500,000 in the Golf Course restaurant. Both State loans the City is applying for on behalf of the owner, Dave Rank, lend money at 4% interest. One application is for a loan of $136,000 to cover half the costs of new equipment for the restaurant, and the other $100,000 loan is a general purpose loan for small business owners. In addition, the City is lending Mr. Rank $100,000 to cover the cost of buying the liquor license from the previous operator. Mrs. Belinski, recalling she thought the City owns the liquor license and transfers it from one owner to the other, stated she called Charles Brown, the former Parks and Public Property Director, and that was his recollection. Mrs. Belinski questioned where is the $100,000 going for the liquor license.
President Donchez affirmed that he has sent a memorandum to the Administration asking about the liquor license, and asked if a response could be given.
Joseph Kelly, Assistant City Solicitor, noted he cannot speak to the terms of the loan, but explained that historically the liquor license is transferred from lessee to lessee. Attorney Kelly advised that as far back as KKK Enterprises the liquor license has never actually been in the City’s name. Attorney Kelly further explained the liquor license was transferred from KKK to Mr. Chanitz, of Mali’s Café, without ever going into the City’s name. President Donchez observed that the City does not own the liquor license. Attorney Kelly responded the license is issued to the lessee, and it is not issued to the City.
Mrs. Belinski communicated it was always the understanding that the City controls the liquor license, and transfers it from one restaurant to the other.
Attorney Kelly advised the City controls the license inasmuch as the City controls who is the lessee.
President Donchez asked that a response be provided for City Council.
Pumping Station – Lehigh River
Mrs. Belinski, referring to a letter from an 84 year old resident about the pumping station, said she does not want to see another catastrophe as occurred in the floods of 1942 and 1955. Mrs. Belinski observed that Bethlehem Steel Corporation kept the pumping station going until it went out of business, after which the City took over for a time. Mrs. Belinski stressed she would rather be prudent and take the precaution to reactive the pumping station. Mrs. Belinski read from the letter of the resident who warned the Administration about the dire circumstances that he personally experienced. Mrs. Belinski recounted the devastation from the flooding in Wilkes-Barre where her husband lived and that she witnessed from the water that came up to the ceiling of the house. Mrs. Belinski pointed out that Wendell Sherman, former Public Works Director, wrote a letter to the editor stating that the City should reactivate the pumping station. She further highlighted the fact that in the past the blast furnaces at Bethlehem Steel Corporation had to be closed down because of the flooding incident. Referring to a recent article reporting that the City asked FEMA to review the City’s plans in connection with the pumping station, Mrs. Belinski noted that Michael Alkhal, Public Works Director, was not saying the City will not fix the pumping station. She also stated that Mr. Alkhal described the project as one of a cost-benefit analysis. Expressing her understanding that the concern is money, Mrs. Belinski highlighted the fact that the City is willing to spend $2 million to make the streets in the vicinity of Five Points one way. Mrs. Belinski advised that in the City of Easton, the traffic on Northampton Street is regulated for one way traffic and asserted that Bethlehem does not need to spend $2 million. Mrs. Belinski stressed that if there is an unexpected flood and the levees fail, then billions of dollars worth of investment for the casino project on the South Side at the former site of the Bethlehem Steel plant will be in jeopardy. Mrs. Belinski reiterated she would like to see the City take the precaution to reactivate the pumping station instead of spending money to make the streets in the vicinity of Five Points one way.
A. Water Supply and Treatment Superintendent – Water Rate Increase
The Clerk read a memorandum dated May 29, 2008 from Jeffrey A. Andrews, Superintendent of Water Supply and Treatment, stating that on June 29, 2007 the City filed a request with the PA Public Utility Commission (PUC) for a water rate increase, proposed to maintain parity of rates by increasing rates for inside-City customers in the same manner as the rates for outside-City, of an overall increase of 11.9%. The Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) and Lower Saucon Authority (LSA) filed formal complaints against the proposed rate change. As a result of the Mediation Sessions, the City, Office of Consumer Advocate and Office of Trial Staff, but not Lower Saucon Authority, agreed on a proposed overall increase of 3.5%. The PUC rendered their approval of the Joint Settlement Stipulation and the Administrative Law Judge’s Recommended Decision at their May 22, 2008 meeting. The total bill for a residential customer would increase by 3.6%. Competitive demand based Industrial and Resale customer riders are also being added to the proposed Ordinance Amending Article 913 to provide incentives to attract large volume industrial and resale customers to use City water where a viable competitive alternative to service from the City exists. The proposed Ordinance has been revised to reflect the changes forwarded in the memorandum dated June 2, 2008.
Ms. Dolan was informed by President Donchez that First Reading of the Ordinance will take place at the June 17 City Council Meeting. Ms. Dolan suggested that perhaps a request could be made to send the matter to Committee in order to receive an update on the funding required to make necessary improvements at the Water Filtration Plant.
President Donchez stated the matter could be referred to Finance Committee if that is the wish of Chairman Leeson.
Mr. Leeson, Chairman of the Finance Committee, asked if there is a time constraint.
Dennis Reichard, Business Administrator, replied yes.
Mr. Leeson, highlighting the fact that the City has no discretion in the matter in that the rates are approved by the PUC, denoted that a update on the water filtration plant project can be requested for a future Committee meeting.
Ms. Dolan stated she would like at some point to have an update on the project in light of new funding to meet the demands of the Water Filtration Plant.
President Donchez stated that the Ordinance will be listed on the June 17 Agenda.
8 . REPORTS
A. President of Council
1. Councilmanic Appointment – Donald K. Doland – Library Board
President Donchez appointed Donald K. Doland to membership on the Library Board to fill the unexpired term of Elayne Malacsics, effective until January 2010. Ms. Dolan and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution 2008-81 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 7. The Resolution passed.
1. Administrative Order – Mary Beth Baran – Parking Authority
Mayor Callahan reappointed Mary Beth Baran to membership on the Parking Authority effective until June 2013. Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Reynolds sponsored Resolution 2008-82 to confirm the appointment.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 7. The Resolution passed.
9. ORDINANCES FOR FINAL PASSAGE
10. NEW ORDINANCES
A. Approving Traffic Signal Maintenance Agreement – Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Reynolds sponsored Resolution 2008-83 that approved installation of traffic signals at the following locations: SR 378 (Wyandotte Street) and Broadway/Dakotah Street, SR 378 (Wyandotte Street) and Fourth Street, Fourth Street and Broadway, Fourth Street and Brodhead Avenue, Fourth Street and New Street, Fourth Street and Webster Street, John L. Schweder Fire Stations (Engine Co. No. 1), Fourth Street and Fillmore Street, Fourth Street and Buchanan Street, Fourth Street and Hayes Street, Donegan Elementary School, Fourth Street and Hobart Street, Fourth Street and William Street, Third Street/Daly Avenue and Hayes Street, Third Street and Founders Way, Third Street and Bethlehem Corporate Main Entrance, Third Street and Fillmore Street, Third Street and Polk Street, Third Street and Webster Street, Third Street and New Street/Fahy Bridge, Third Street and Brodhead Ave/Riverside Drive, Third Street and SR 378 (Wyandotte Street), and SR 378 (Wyandotte Street) and Ramp, subject to the approval of the Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, and in accordance with the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and the Regulations for traffic signs, signals, and markings of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Ms. Dolan, referring to the list of intersections in the agreement, asked if any are new locations for signals.
Mr. Alkhal replied they are all existing signal locations.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 7. The Resolution passed.
B. Approving Use Permit Agreement for Public Property – Richard Scott Kelley and Has Anyone Seen My Balloon?, Inc.
Ms. Dolan and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution 2008-84 that authorized the execution of a Use Permit Agreement between the City and Richard Scott Kelley and Has Anyone Seen My Balloon?, Inc. for use of Yellis Park, Monocacy Park Complex Athletic Fields, Saucon Park Complex Athletic Fields, Clearview Complex and the area behind the Municipal Ice Rink, for Hot Air Balloon Take-Off for the period June 1, 2008 to May 31, 2009, according to the terms and conditions of the Agreement.
Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer,
Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 7. The Resolution
C. Authorizing Records Destruction – Tax Bureau
The Clerk read Resolution 11 C to authorize the destruction of records from the Tax Bureau as listed on the exhibit.
Ms. Dolan, turning to Agenda Item 6 A listing the Tabled Resolutions pertaining to authorizing destruction of records, inquired about the status. Ms. Dolan wondered why the City is saving paper in light of the readily available technology for electronic storage of records, and asked where is the City with that effort.
Mr. Schweder, affirming he had asked that the Resolutions be tabled, advised that he will ask that Resolution 11 C be passed over as well. Mr. Schweder, in acknowledging the concerns raised by Ms. Dolan that there should be a better way to address the matter than simply destroying records, stated that he met with the Executive Director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library regarding how records are kept including those pertaining to the history of the City. Mr. Schweder noted he also spoke with the technical personnel at the Library and was informed there is a way to do it, and it was explained the decision that is time-consuming is to set the parameters to determine what should and should not be kept. Mr. Schweder suggested that he, Mr. Reichard, and the City Clerk perhaps should review the places where City Hall records are kept and ascertain how to proceed. Mr. Schweder noted that a response would be formulated by an upcoming City Council Meeting. Mr. Schweder restated that he would like to move to either table the Resolution or pass it over for now, if agreeable, so that all four Resolutions could be disposed of at the same time.
President Donchez, informing the Members that he met with the Meg Holland, City Controller, this week and Ms. Holland will be presenting a six months review. President Donchez continued on to note that Ms. Holland has been working with the Administration going over a lot of documents, and there is a lot of duplication.
Tabling Resolution 11 C
Mr. Schweder and Mrs. Belinski moved to table Resolution 11 C. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Schweder, and Mr. Donchez, 7. The motion passed.
Ms. Dolan, pointing out her intention was not to create more work, asked if the City is thinking now about current records and not saving them on paper.
Mr. Reichard, replying yes, advised that he has contacted the Library, and he along with the City Clerk met with a representative from a company last week. Affirming that the City has been following the State law, Mr. Reichard expressed his understanding of Ms. Dolan’s comments, and observed there may be some records such as purchase orders that may not need to be kept past a certain point in time. Mr. Reichard stated that an intern will be starting July 1 and the matter will be reviewed. He acknowledged it will be a sizable project, and further noted he is not sure exactly what is stored outside of the City Hall complex. Pointing out it will have to be a comprehensive project, Mr. Reichard expressed his agreement that the paper has to be managed and documents need to be put into some form.
Mr. Leeson, advising a similar issue was reviewed in City Hall about 10 years ago, said the quantity of paper that is useless in City Hall is vast and it would take a small army of people working full time for months just to sort it out and to see what is there. Pointing out that some of the documents go back for years and years, Mr. Leeson observed that 90% of it has no value whatsoever from a historical or financial perspective. Stressing it is a bottomless pit of work and money, Mr. Leeson said he would welcome the opportunity to have this review done, and hopefully it will bring some order to the process and an efficient way to deal with the problem.
D. Certificate of Appropriateness – 11 East Third Street
Ms. Dolan and Mr. Reynolds sponsored Resolution 2008-85 that granted a Certificate of Appropriateness to install wall signs and projecting signs at 11 East Third Street.
E. Approving Agreement of Sale – Maple Tract
Ms. Dolan and Mrs. Belinski sponsored Resolution 2008-86 that approved and authorized the sale of approximately 522 acres of land, known as the Maple Tract, located in Tunkhannock and Tobyhanna Townships, Monroe County, by the Bethlehem Authority to the Wildlands Conservancy, Inc., 3701 Orchid Place, Emmaus, Pennsylvania 18049, according to the terms and conditions of the Agreement, and with the further condition that the Bethlehem Authority and Wildlands Conservancy, Inc., will enter into and record a conservation easement restricting the development of the Maple Tract, within thirty days after the Wildlands Conservancy, Inc., acquires the Maple Tract.
Mrs. Belinski, advising that she sponsored the Resolution to bring it before Council for discussion, stated she is for it but has reservations.
Ms. Dolan, communicating that the proposal represents a winning situation, stated that first it provides protection in perpetuity of land that protects the water quality by two fine organizations: The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlands Conservancy that is making the purchase. Ms. Dolan highlighted the fact that the Wildlands Conservancy has conserved 46,000 acres under 62 separate easements, has been in business for 35 years as a non-profit, and their mission is to preserve, protect, or enhance land and water resources of the Lehigh watershed. Ms. Dolan observed the City should be very comfortable with turning the land over to them. Second, Ms. Dolan pointed out it affords protection of an area designated as one of the last great places on earth. In addition, Ms. Dolan pointed out the sale will provide roughly $1.65 million designated to the Bethlehem Authority to contribute to funding required to lead to the upgrades desperately needed at the Water Filtration Plant. Ms. Dolan denoted that in one of the memos from Magdalena Szabo, Member of Council, in the last month of her life Ms. Szabo asked that something be put in writing that would guarantee that the proceeds of the sale of the Maple Tract would go the Bethlehem Authority specifically for improvements to the Water Filtration Plant. Ms. Dolan said she contacted Stephen Repasch, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Authority, to make sure that would be done. Ms. Dolan stated she will be proud to vote yes tonight.
Mr. Mowrer said this is the only issue about which he has ever received all the phone calls, e-mails, letters, and comments on the street where people favored doing this. Mr. Mowrer agreed this is absolutely a winning proposal, and he will be delighted to vote for it.
Mr. Schweder informed the assembly he had asked President Donchez before the Meeting began if he could question a few people this evening, and for some leeway to continue. Mr. Schweder, confirmed that along with Mr. Mowrer and Ms. Dolan he did vote to report this matter out of Committee, and added that all are in support conceptually with what Council is about to do tonight. Mr. Schweder inquired whether there is a representative from the Wildlands Conservancy present at the Meeting who he can address.
Chris Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy, 3701 Orchid Place, Emmaus, took the podium to respond to Mr. Schweder’s questions.
Mr. Schweder advised that he would have preferred a reverter clause in the agreement so that if for any reason at some point something would happen to the land, over which the Wildlands Conservancy would have total control if it is sold to them, which is not what the City envisioned would have been done with it then the reverter clause would have allowed the land to be returned to the Bethlehem Authority for the protection of the watershed and the lands there. However, Mr. Schweder noted Attorney James Broughal, Solicitor to the Bethlehem Authority, advised the Wildlands Conservancy opposes that and questioned why.
Mr. Kocher explained the funding method that is being used from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for 50% of the overall purchase price for the Maple Tract. With that money comes a deed covenant placed on the property that ensures the property remains open space in perpetuity. In addition, Wildlands Conservancy has agreed to place a conservation easement mainly with the Bethlehem Authority, the City, and The Nature Conservancy as co-holders of the conservation easement to allow additional protection of the tract to ensure the property is left in a natural state in perpetuity. The Wildlands Conservancy agreed on those avenues over the reverter clause because with the funding sources that it is dealing with, and the public support and donations, the organization did not want to spend $1.65 million for a piece of open space and then several years later another Administration could possibly have that property go into public ownership. Mr. Kocher further advised that, by using the covenants in place and the conservation easement, the organization feels very comfortable that the property will be protected in perpetuity because of those covenants and the mission to preserve and protect the natural resources.
Mr. Schweder asked if the Wildlands Conservancy is prohibited by the funding sources from signing a reverter clause. Mr. Kocher replied it makes the transaction from the organization’s perspective much more difficult if the reverter clause is in place. Mr. Schweder queried whether that would be the case if the land were being purchased from a private developer, or is it unique in that it is being purchased from a government. Mr. Kocher replied the reverter clause is a problem partly because of the DCNR funding since public dollars are being used to protect a piece of property that then would go and turn back over to the entity after the acquisition had taken place. Mr. Schweder wondered whether the restriction is there by the State because the Wildlands Conservancy does not always purchase land from public entities and the concern is that it would revert back to private ownership. However, Mr. Schweder pointed out under the proposal it would revert back to the City that is the original protector of the land. Confirming to Mr. Schweder there have been other land acquisitions by the Bethlehem Authority where a reverter clause was in place, as was the case with Lehigh County, Mr. Kocher explained that worked better because it was between two government entities. With the Wildlands Conservancy involved, Mr. Kocher stated they did not want a reverter clause because the protections are already in place on the property, and the organization’s main focus is making sure the property is protected. In further response to Mr. Schweder, Mr. Kocher advised that only a part of the funding is coming from the State, and the other half is coming from private sources.
Mr. Schweder, communicating that what Council is being asked to do tonight is the second safest thing that could be done for the land, said the safest thing that could be done is to keep it. Mr. Schweder recounted there have been years of decisions made by the Bethlehem Authority that took money that should have been used in connection with the water facilities and was used for the General Fund of the City of Bethlehem at the expense of ratepayers. Mr. Schweder asked what are the options for the use of the land once the Wildlands Conservancy acquires it. Mr. Kocher responded that the Wildlands Conservancy would own the property fee simple, and there would be a covenant placed on the property once the organization purchased it using State funding. The property would be open to the public for recreational purposes and the Wildlands Conservancy would protect the environmental attributes of the property. In addition, the Wildlands Conservancy would place a conservation easement on the property that would further restrict any development or subdivision of the property, and further allow for the protection of the natural resources on the property that makes it so special. Mr. Schweder asked what are the types of recreational uses that would be envisioned, and that the organization has done in the past. Mr. Kocher advised in the past, the activities on lands have been hiking, bird watching, fishing, and explained it depends on the property itself, the environmental aspects, and added what can be done on the property recreationally will impact the natural diversity and habitat that exists.
Mr. Schweder recalled the discussion that Mrs. Belinski tried to have at the Public Works Committee meeting of May 13, 2008 that she was not allowed to do was about the donation of land by The Nature Conservancy in Tunkhannock Township that was used for recreational purposes for softball fields. Mr. Schweder pointed out that once the City is removed it would have no standing in the event the organization chooses to do something different than what Council is being told tonight, other than to sue in court. Mr. Kocher advised that is not entirely correct in that the DCNR covenant ensures that the property remain as open space, not be developed, and open to the public. Mr. Kocher continued on to say the Wildlands Conservancy is not able to do anything more to the property than that, and in addition, the conservation easement at closing that is another mantel of protection so that the property cannot be developed. Mr. Schweder asked if the Wildlands Conservancy is prohibited under any of the covenants from selling the property in the future. Mr. Kocher, responding no, stated however that the covenant and the easement follow the property. Mr. Schweder noted what is being seen, and particularly in Upper Saucon Township, is that developers are guaranteeing open space in one place so they get very heavy density to build in other places. Mr. Schweder expressed one of the matters that concerns him is that the Maple Tract could be sold to somebody who kept it open space in accordance with the easements but then infringed upon all the other outlying areas of the watershed within that Township. Mr. Schweder continued on to say they would be doing it perfectly legally because it would remain as recreational land and conserved in order to get what else they wanted in the Township. Observing it is somewhat hypothetical, Mr. Schweder thought it would be permissible under the provisions. Mr. Kocher stated typically what happens when a developer horse trades pieces of property, the piece of property that is being traded does not have the covenants or protection that this property already has. Mr. Kocher observed the municipality in that case would not be gaining anything because the property had already been protected using public dollars. Mr. Schweder inquired if it is known whether there are any such stipulations or agreements or ordinances that the township has that allows developers to develop that way or would prohibit the easements from being that way. Mr. Kocher, stating he does not specifically know about the township, restated the levels of protection that are on the Maple Tract prohibit the property from being developed in the future, and an additional mantel of protection is in place because of the conservation easement. He continued on to say any development other than the protection of the significant natural resources that this property holds is against the mission of the Wildlands Conservancy that has been in existence for 35 years and protects 46,000 acres of open space. Mr. Kocher said the organization holds conservation easements on 62 individual properties totaling over 6,000 acres, and the organization’s guarantee is that the property will remain as open space in perpetuity.
Attorney James Broughal, Solicitor to the Bethlehem Authority, informed the Members that he had created the reverter clause when the Bethlehem Authority previously sold land in Salisbury Township to Lehigh County. Attorney Broughal explained when the Bethlehem Authority decided after much discussion to put out an RFP for the sale of the Maple Tract they directed that he and Stephen Repasch, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Authority, put together the RFP. At the time the RFP was sent, they had no idea who the ultimate purchaser of the property would be. Consequently, Attorney Broughal took the most conservative legal approach and put in a provision regarding the fact that there would be a reverter provision. Attorney Broughal stated it is important for everyone to understand that a reverter is a significant, severe legal consequence because if the property owner is in violation of the anti-development provisions, the land would come back to the Bethlehem Authority for zero dollars. In this specific case of the Maple Tract, the $1.65 million investment is gone because the Bethlehem Authority would get the property back with no requirement for a contribution. When the Bethlehem Authority received two proposals, they were thrilled that the Wildlands Conservancy was one of them because it was ultimately thought the organization would be the greatest steward of the property. In the negotiations that led up to the agreement of sale, it became clear from the Wildlands Conservancy that the reverter was something they could not possibly live with. Because the Bethlehem Authority felt that this was a group that would be the best steward of the property, the alternate route was taken that was to agree to a conservation easement. Attorney Broughal informed the Members that if the Bethlehem Authority would have tried to impose the reverter provision they would have been in court since no one would give up a $1.65 million investment without court action. Attorney Broughal, affirming that the conservation easement runs with the land, said it will be restrictive to every property owner from now in perpetuity, it allows the Bethlehem Authority that is a beneficiary of the conservation easement to have standing to go into court to restrict the development of that property in accordance with the conservation easement. Attorney Broughal expressed the belief that is as strong a measure as anyone can ask for in this particular case. He added that based on who the property was being conveyed to it was felt it was a compromise that was worth taking.
Mr. Schweder explained why he has some concerns about the matter is reflective of what Mrs. Belinski tried to bring to people’s attention at the Public Works Committee meeting of May 13, 2008. Mr. Schweder continued on to explain that, within the boundaries of land in Tunkhannock Township, The Nature Conservancy in good faith gave property to the Township for recreational uses. What is being learned and what Mrs. Belinski wanted to bring up at the Committee meeting is it appears that on the property donated and converted into recreational areas and baseball fields there is waste that would be required under State law to go to an approved landfill but instead is buried under the ball fields. The waste is reinforced concrete that contains the reinforcing rods, strewn across the land in the Township. Mr. Schweder, referring to Mr. Repasch’s correspondence to City Council dated May 15, 2008, noted the land that is immediately adjacent to the recreational land is land that the Bethlehem Authority leases to Tunkhannock Township.
President Donchez commented that he would give Mr. Schweder latitude in this matter since it is relevant in that it is the adjacent property.
Mr. Schweder observed it comes down to the honesty and veracity of what everyone took in good faith as the agreement between The Nature Conservancy and the Township on that property. Mr. Schweder noted that in Mr. Repasch’s May 15, 2008 letter it was explained that in spring of 2007 the Bethlehem Authority became aware that the site being leased was becoming a site to store empty recycling containers owned by the Monroe County Solid Waste Authority, and in looking at pictures they showed all kinds of waste including motor fuel, and 55 gallon drums of liquids. Mr. Schweder recalled that after the conclusion of the Public Works Committee meeting on May 13, 2008 when the pictures were viewed he asked Richard Master, Chairman of the Bethlehem Authority Board, when Mr. Master became aware of this, and Mr. Master advised it was the first he had seen it. Mr. Schweder queried whether it is the recollection that even though the matter was looked at in 2005 and in the spring of 2007 the Bethlehem Authority was never informed that this was the case.
Mr. Repasch replied yes they were, and continued on to explain with regard to the issues involving the most recent activity at the site which had just taken place within the last several months concerning the oil containers and so on the Bethlehem Authority became aware of that just recently and not in the spring of 2007. In the spring of 2007 the Bethlehem Authority was aware of the recycling containers only. It was not until the spring of 2008 that the Authority was made aware of the other items that had been stored on the property. Mr. Schweder noted in Mr. Repasch’s letter it was explained that Mr. Van Noy who was the Chairman of the Township Supervisors was surprised by the issues related to the waste. Mr. Repasch commented that is what Mr. Van Noy told him. Mr. Schweder noted in the memo from Mr. Repasch it was stated what was being stored temporarily was from the Monroe County Waste Authority. Mr. Repasch responded it was the recycling containers only, and everything else stored on the site was Township material. Mr. Repasch notified the assembly there is a supervisor from Tunkhannock Township at the meeting this evening if there are any questions. Mr. Schweder said he assumes the Bethlehem Authority and Mr. Repasch were aware at the time that the Waste Authority in Monroe County is currently managed by an individual who was a convicted felon and is prohibited by State law from holding that position, and that is being pursued by the County Commissioners, the District Attorney of Monroe County, and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Mr. Repasch replied he was not aware of that until after his conversation with Mrs. Belinski. Mr. Schweder noted that Mr. Van Noy was the person who hired the individual and Mr. Van Noy previously worked with the individual, Mr. Lambert, in New Jersey. Mr. Repasch commented he only learned of that after reading the newspaper article in the Pocono Record that was mentioned by Mrs. Belinski to him. Mr. Schweder advised what he is trying to show is that he does not think the City is in a position to understand the full ramifications of what is going on there, and the Maple Tract land that is being discussed to be given up resides in the very Township where all of this took place. Mr. Schweder continued on to point out that The Nature Conservancy did exactly what he had asked about earlier in that they in good faith donated land to the Township and then serious questions were raised. Mr. Schweder recounted it was discovered in April that there were gas cylinders, tires, a few oil drums, road millings, recycling containers, trash and debris from road cleanup that was on the property that the Bethlehem Authority leases to the Township. Mr. Repasch said that is correct, and further responded to Mr. Schweder that the Bethlehem Authority asked that they remove it. Mr. Schweder communicated that since he and Mr. Repasch talked it turns out the Township put most of the waste materials on property they did not lease from the Bethlehem Authority but on property that is owned by the Bethlehem Authority. Mr. Repasch noted it is correct that a lot of it protruded onto property that was owned by the Bethlehem Authority. Mr. Schweder noted where the stakes are on the property that the Bethlehem Authority had surveyed within the last two weeks if one were to take 100% of the land where the dumping occurred 75% of it was on the Authority’s property. Mr. Repasch, commenting that could be correct, advised he does not remember where the dividing line was. Mr. Schweder asked who looked at the property within the last several weeks since the cleanup has occurred. Mr. Repasch replied he and Daniel Meixell, special Bethlehem Authority officer. Mr. Schweder observed that the pile of millings that some people described as 80 feet high at one point has been cut down to 15-20 feet. Mr. Repasch, noting it is probably taller than that, explained it is being used for road improvements, and the millings that are there are deemed appropriate as fill by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Mr. Schweder informed the assembly he was at the site yesterday along with Mrs. Belinski and a few others, and he had the opportunity to look at the piles and what has been removed. Mr. Schweder showed pieces of the pilings that were on the pile that still exists which is on the Bethlehem Authority’s property and not on the property that is leased to the Township. Mr. Schweder denoted the sample piece is road tar and oil, and the material was taken and put on a dirt road that was paved in the Township. Mr. Repasch stated it was used to fill in Hypsy Gap Road, and it is approved fill. Mr. Schweder noted he thought that under State law it also has to be capped. Mr. Schweder explained the portion of the dirt road where the material was dumped is about 3 miles long in the Township, and eventually where the material will get ground down is a road that runs through the middle of the Township’s property. Mr. Repasch said that is correct. Mr. Schweder noted that all the property on either side of that road is owned by the Bethlehem Authority, and it crosses a bridge which crosses a stream and the stream is the headwater of the Tunkhannock Creek. Mr. Repasch said that is correct. Mr. Schweder observed people here are being congratulated on things that are being done to bring about exceptional water quality to that creek and yet this dumping is what is being done through the middle of the Township’s property. Mr. Schweder said he is going to suggest that the matter be tabled since there is much more to this. Mr. Schweder advised the story about what is going on with the County Waste Authority boggles the mind including bribing a public official, how people got a position, and no one on the Waste Authority was ever informed about the people who are being dealt with. Mr. Schweder stated he brings these matters to attention because he thinks it is very relevant to the Maple Tract issue because these are the same people the Bethlehem Authority dealt with in good faith with respect to the land, and yet the Bethlehem Authority is giving away land that exists in the very Township where all of this took place. Mr. Schweder, expressing the thought that there should be a more thorough investigation, observed perhaps there is less here than meets the eye, but said he is most uncomfortable with this. Advising that Mrs. Belinski asked the Morning Call reporter why the paper was not following up on this and was told it would be handled by the Lehighton Bureau that covers that area, Mr. Schweder pointed out that a search was done and there were no stories written. Mr. Schweder expressed his concern that either intentionally or unintentionally the Bethlehem Authority was misled about what was being done with the land and it is serious enough that there should be a review of this. Mr. Schweder, affirming he is still in favor of the proposal, and is not concerned about who the land would be sold to, remarked there are too many extenuating circumstances to the story that he thinks at the very least need to be explored. Mr. Schweder reiterated he is going to suggest at some point that Council move to table the Resolution until there is a chance to review the matter. Mr. Schweder added on the tour yesterday it was pretty alarming to him to look at what was there and how the land was infringed upon above and beyond the leased space. Mr. Schweder communicated what is curious is this is happening in plain site of everybody, and The Nature Conservancy’s building as well as the Township’s building are both close by where this is all taking place.
Mr. Repasch, confirming the Bethlehem Authority is conducting a Phase I environmental assessment of the site, advised it is just about completed, and in conversations with the consultant there are no recognized environmental risks on the site which will be put in writing.
Ms. Dolan, focusing on the May 13, 2008 Public Works Committee meeting, affirmed that she did recognize Mrs. Belinski and she did speak. Ms. Dolan explained that as the Chair of the Committee what she did not allow was the showing of photographs on the Bethlehem Authority’s equipment because she believed then and she believes now that these issues are separate. Ms. Dolan recounted she said at that time if they are so important that they need to draw attention away from the issue at hand, then a Public Works Committee meeting can be called to look at it as a separate issue. Ms. Dolan pointed out that the land referenced by Mr. Schweder is not land that was given to The Nature Conservancy or the Wildlands Conservancy, and added it was not a conservation easement but a recreation easement. Ms. Dolan, turning to the reverter clause, thought at best it would be redundant considering the conservation easement. Ms. Dolan thought at worst it is dangerous because it puts at risk the acquisition of funds from DCNR, and it is a severe clause in that if a reverter clause were added it would put the deal seriously at risk. Offering another hypothetical of a different Council and Administration in 20 years who could play political games with a reverter clause, Ms. Dolan exemplified they could want the land back and say the Wildlands Conservancy cut down some trees and that is against their version of the rules, and the land hypothetically could revert back to the Bethlehem Authority that, Ms. Dolan continued on to say, Mr. Schweder is calling into question in terms of their ability to do a good job as stewards of the land. Ms. Dolan, further noting there are individuals who donate money to the Wildlands Conservancy as she does, observed contributors would be unhappy with a risk such as a reverter clause with which political games could be played. Ms. Dolan felt that Mr. Schweder’s remarks convince her that the land should be sold to the Wildlands Conservancy because if it is left to the Bethlehem Authority’s ownership then it could be possible that exactly what Mr. Schweder is talking about may continue. Highlighting the fact that Bud Cook, from The Nature Conservancy, has contacted the DEP to get the area cleaned up, Ms. Dolan pointed out the Township is not doing what they should be doing with the Bethlehem Authority’s land and with the land for which there is a recreational easement. Ms. Dolan stated if the issue is so important to Mr. Schweder and to Mrs. Belinski then she would be totally open, instead of tabling the Resolution, to holding a Public Works Committee meeting on this issue separately to give it the attention it deserves.
Mrs. Belinski, affirming that she went on the trip yesterday, said she can verify and backup every word that Mr. Schweder said. Mrs. Belinski recounted that after the May 13 Public Works Committee meeting some people chose to go to the City Clerk’s Office to look at pictures and saw what she and Mr. Schweder saw about what was occurring on the land. Mrs. Belinski communicated she discovered that Mr. Cook was very upset when he found out what was done on the land that The Nature Conservancy generously gave to the Township and upon which was dumped concrete and rebar, and he called the DEP but at that time they did not do anything. Mrs. Belinski explained she heard and also saw yesterday by the ballfield that parts of wetlands were covered with millings.
Mrs. Belinski asked if it is correct that Mr. Kocher said that when the Wildlands Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy own the land they could sell it in the future. Mr. Kocher replied yes, the property could be sold in the future. However, Mr. Kocher advised that the covenants from the State and the conservation easements stay in place on the property. Mrs. Belinski remarked look at what Tunkhannock Township did.
Mrs. Belinski advised the pictures first sent to her showed millings 80 feet high, and when they were there yesterday the word was out and it had been reduced to perhaps one-third of what it had been. Mrs. Belinski remarked they have been scrambling to get it out and mulching it down so they could put a new overlay on the road. However, when it dissipates the oil that is in the tar from the millings put on Hypsy Gap Road, that is a narrow road on either side of the Bethlehem Authority’s property and goes over Tunkhannock Creek, eventually feeds its way into the City’s water supply in Tunkhannock Creek. Mrs. Belinski said she thinks this is very serious. Mrs. Belinski further notified the Members that the Bethlehem Authority leased land to Tunkhannock Township that in turn subleased the land to Monroe County Waste Authority. Advising it was reported in the Pocono Record that the person in charge was in prison in New Jersey and is out on parole as a convicted felon, Mrs. Belinski highlighted the fact that the laws in Pennsylvania do not allow those people to hold office. When questions were asked why the person was not fired, the person who was his former partner in New Jersey who was on the board of directors of the Waste Authority said he was going to give him another chance. Mrs. Belinski pointed out the County Commissioners have asked the District Attorney, David Christine, to take Mr. Lambert to court to terminate his employment. Mrs. Belinski, while stating she is in favor of the proposal, said after what they saw yesterday it shocked her. Mrs. Belinski added if someone did not have the benefit of the expertise that was presented to her one would not even be aware of what is going on. Mrs. Belinski said she wants a more in depth investigation. Mrs. Belinski observed, if the land were to be sold in the future, how would it be known that the land would not be sold to people who allow all this to happen.
Mr. Kocher explained with regard to the sale of property, that includes the purchase with funds coming from the DCNR, because of the covenant that is in place, the purchase and or sublease needs to be approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that is an additional layer of protection. Mr. Kocher pointed out that the property in question is separate and does not contain any of the protections talked about tonight including the State covenant or the conservation easement.
Mr. Leeson said he is going to vote in favor of the transaction. Mr. Leeson stated that he reviewed the documents and is satisfied that the land will be adequately protected from a conservation standpoint. However, Mr. Leeson observed some troubling questions have been raised that he thinks need to be answered on the subject matter brought up by Mr. Schweder and Mrs. Belinski. Mr. Leeson noted he does not favor tabling the matter this evening, and favors proceeding forward with the transaction because he thinks it meets all the requirements of a good transaction and of serving the public interest. Mr. Leeson commented it would also serve the public interest by getting answers to these troubling questions, and answers are needed. Mr. Leeson said he looks forward to an inquiry of some type, the nature of which needs to be determined, and continuing dialog on that subject.
Mr. Schweder stated he is not accusing anybody of anything and does not know exactly what was learned but there seems to be something very strange about the story that is all intertwined. Mr. Schweder communicated the concern he has is if action is taken tonight the Bethlehem Authority will never get the land back. Mr. Schweder recalled he is reminded of the words of the former Chairman of the Bethlehem Authority, Ronald Donchez, who said one thing we should never do is we should never sell land, particularly up there. Mr. Schweder observed it was different with respect to selling land in Salisbury Township. Mr. Schweder commented there were civic leaders in Bethlehem going back to the 1930’s at the time the land in the system was purchased when the City of Philadelphia could not afford to run it any more and it ended here. Mr. Schweder stressed the most important consideration is the protection of the water. Mr. Schweder observed it may be not be found that there is anything necessarily related here but there is something about this that is not right. Mr. Schweder continued on to say that to do this tonight when Council could step back and look at this and come back and address this fully apprised of those issues seems to make more sense to him. Mr. Schweder added what the Bethlehem Authority tells Council from a legal perspective is one thing one time and it is something else the next time. Mr. Schweder stated he would have little or no faith in the study the Authority is doing because he has little or no faith in the Bethlehem Authority that has to do with fiduciary responsibilities or lack thereof over the last six or seven years and what is going on with the land there. Mr. Schweder said if there is a majority of people tonight who feel comfortable enough that they will forever release ownership of the property that a generation of elected officials thought was important enough to be part of the protection of the watershed then they will do it and vote against the motion to table. Mr. Schweder advised he is not prepared to do that tonight and it is for that reason that he suggests the mater be reviewed a little bit longer and get answers to a lot of questions that would be related to the matter.
Mr. Schweder moved to Table Resolution 11 E, and Mrs. Belinski seconded the motion. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Schweder, 2. Voting NAY: Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Donchez, 5. The motion failed.
Voting AYE on Resolution 11 E: Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Donchez, 5. Voting NAY: Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Schweder, 2. The Resolution passed.
12. NEW BUSINESS
Committee Meeting Announcements
Chairman Leeson announced a Finance Committee meeting on
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
at 4:30 PM in the Mayor’s Conference Room.
Chairwoman Belinski announced a Parks and Public Property Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 6:00 PM in Town Hall.
President Donchez announced a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 6:00 PM in Town Hall.
Chairwoman Dolan requested that a Public Works Committee meeting be scheduled on the subjects brought up by Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Schweder.
13. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR
Sale of Maple Tract
Jim Davenport, Blakeslee, Pennsylvania, communicated it is a breath of fresh air to hear the various comments about the Maple Tract and to see what Council has done tonight. Mr. Davenport noted he has had the pleasure of growing up on the Tunkhannock Creek and expressed he is most grateful to the Bethlehem Authority and Members of Council for providing this wonderful place to raise his children and grandchildren. Mr. Davenport said he also represents the Tunkhannock Fishing Association that owns a large tract of land on the watershed and that the Maple Tract will protect. Mr. Davenport advised that a microvertebrate study of the Tunkhannock watershed was done by the Monroe County Conservation District, and Tunkhannock Creek had the highest possible score of 30. He continued on to advise that a group of students from Stroudsburg High School did a study and found in the Tunkhannock Creek at Route 115 a microvertebrate that is highly intolerant of pollution and could not live any place where there is pollution. Mr. Davenport thanked Stephen Repasch and the Bethlehem Authority, regardless of what might have been said tonight, and noted Mr. Repasch and Dan Meixell have been very helpful. Mr. Davenport informed the assembly he is a most recent appointee as of about six weeks ago to the Tunkhannock Township Supervisors, and stated that the situation took place with the prior board. Mr. Davenport added every effort is being made to correct the situation, and stated he would want to attend the Public Works Committee meeting.
City Records; Liquor License; and Evaluations
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, informing the Members he was able to access a 1932-1934 City Directory at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, stressed that with the technology today there is absolutely no reason why a record should be destroyed.
Mr. Antalics contrasted the support of the liquor license for the Golf Course Clubhouse Restaurant with the request made a few years ago by the Sun Inn for a liquor license that did not receive support. Mr. Antalics, expressing that the Sun Inn and the Administration are at loggerheads in that there is a piece of property between the Sun Inn and the restaurant project of Mr. Pektor at Broad and Main Streets, communicated it seems that pressure is being put on the Sun Inn to relinquish the property to allow for outdoor dining for the restaurant project. Mr. Antalics thought someone should check into the matter.
Mr. Antalics explained that the citizen evaluations of the Members of Council have been very accurate in terms of how Council is perceived. Mr. Antalics recited the address to which the forms can be returned. Mr. Antalics added there will be quarterly reports to let Council know what people think of them.
Oil; Engines Idling; and Wages
Peter Crownfield, 569 Brighton Street, addressed the climate change issue and pointed out that oil prices will continue to go up. Mr. Crownfield stressed these issues need to be addressed.
Mr. Crownfield notified the Members that, as he has noted in the past, diesel engines are still idling on Main Street, and it can asphyxiate patrons who are trying to enjoy outdoor dining. In addition, Mr. Crownfield advised that police cars are parked underneath the Hill to Hill Bridge with the engines running. Highlighting the fact that these situations cause the air to be polluted, Mr. Crownfield questioned why is this allowed to happen.
Mr. Crownfield observed that in the Five Points Traffic Plan increases in fuel prices were not factored in, and he pointed out that public transportation ridership is up 20% nationwide. Stressing that these issues have to be included in decision-making, Mr. Crownfield queried what is being done to protect citizens.
Mr. Crownfield asserted that City officials are not acting on the peak oil and climate change issues. Mr. Crownfield stated these issues are not reported very much in the local newspapers, or in the national media, while they are covered in international news.
Referring to the jobs that will be created when the casino opens in South Bethlehem, Mr. Crownfield questioned why Bethlehem does not have a living wage that guarantees those jobs will have wages on which people can survive.
Robert Pfenning, 2830 Linden Street, provided an update on the annual East Coast Gaming Congress and noted the topic of a form of slot machines for use at the Meadowlands, New Jersey site came up. Mr. Pfenning further noted it was stated that the Sands BethWorks casino project would have a negative impact on the revenues of the casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mr. Pfenning stated that Pennsylvania’s high tax rate was raised that can preclude capital investment. Mr. Pfenning explained under House Bill 2121 relating to table games the City would receive another $4 million a year from the Sands BethWorks project, and he further noted the industry thought a 15% tax rate would be a good rate versus the approximate 34% as discussed under the Bill. Mr. Pfenning commented that Sheldon Addelson, majority shareholder in Las Vegas Sands, the parent company of Sands BethWorks, said if Pennsylvania licenses table games the casino in Bethlehem could rival Foxwoods in Connecticut.
Eddie Rodriquez, 1845 Linden Street, said that rooming houses are being turned into crack houses, and requested an investigation. Mr. Rodriquez communicated that individuals suspected of drug trafficking should be stopped for motor vehicle infractions. Mr. Rodriquez, stressing that public safety is an issue, advised there is much reckless driving in the City and it should be dealt with. Mr. Rodriquez stated he would like sarcasm of some dispatchers stopped. Mr. Rodriquez questioned why the canine unit is not used more often. He stated that more drug busts and more vice police are needed to clean the City of drug activity. Mr. Rodriquez said there are properties that are not being inspected and are being sold, and asked that the Chief Housing Inspector provide Council with updates. Mr. Rodriquez asked whether sex offenders are registered with the City or the State, and said he has the list. Referring to discussions earlier this evening, Mr. Rodriquez pointed out that oil could go through the streams and into the drinking water, and he does not want to see this happen.
City Information and Records
Dana Grubb, 2420 Henderson Place, expressed his appreciation for the electronic transmission of meeting schedules, agendas and related documentation. He added this saves the taxpayers postage and paper.
Mr. Grubb, focusing on the earlier discussion about City records, suggested that a completely executed City contract could be scanned in and placed on the server for access by various individuals at City Hall rather than making multiple copies of it, and one hard copy could be filed.
Bill Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, thought the City should err on the side of too much information rather than too little.
Mr. Scheirer noted there is an ordinance in Washington, DC prohibiting idling of engines for more than three minutes pertaining to tour buses.
Mr. Scheirer expressed he is dismayed that when Courtesy of the Floor arises two-thirds of the press leaves and some Administration officials leave.
Mr. Scheirer notified the assembly about two land sales that occurred last January. He described one of the locations off Union Boulevard at Rose Avenue and Genoa Street that is an alley behind houses. Parallel to Genoa Street is a narrow strip of land the City apparently still owns and may be what is left of Stratford Park that is no longer listed on the City’s website. Behind that is a tract of land along Sixteenth Avenue that was sold in January to Jama Barker for $50,000. Adjacent to that is another site that goes to Route 378 that was also conveyed in January to Mr. Barker for $1. It is proposed to use it to provide back yards for the 8 twin houses that will be built on Sixteenth Avenue in an area zoned I – Institutional, and is to go before the Zoning Hearing Board. A third lot, apparently still owned by the City, runs from Stratford Park along Stratford Street to Route 378. Mr. Scheirer advised there may be some Indians buried there, and he has talked to a leading expert in the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Scheirer stated that Council may want to look into the land sales.
Tunkhannock Watershed; and State Funds
Mary Pongracz, 321 West Fourth Street, noted that the history of the Tunkhannock watershed area can be found by looking up Ario “Rip” Wear who was a Council Member when she was a child and he was most involved in developing Tunkhannock.
Focusing on State funds, Ms. Pongracz stressed that citizens pay taxes to the State and when it is said that something will not cost anything or it was paid for by State funds it is still financed by the taxpayers.
Louise Valeriano, 3114 East Boulevard, stated the City has already sold that land around Sixteenth Avenue that was referenced by Mr. Scheirer.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:15 p.m.