Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hot Water in Great Bend Borough - 3.5.2009

Great Bend Borough is inside a large bight of the Susquehanna River. That’s why it’s called Great Bend, after all. Some of the town’s parks which are on the bank of the river can expect flooding every Spring. The rest of the town isn’t far out of the flood plain, at the base of some hills that drain into that river. So water has always been an issue in one way or another.
And so it was at the meeting of the Borough Council on a relatively balmy night in early March on the 5th. “Water on Washington Street” has been on the agenda for as long as anyone can remember. And now Council wants to do something about excess water at a location on Franklin Street that seems to be backing up into a resident’s basement. The cost of that may affect everything else they might want to do for the Borough’s streets this year.

Then there is the derelict property that appears to be occupied but that hasn’t been supplied with town water for some time. Council is at odds what to do about such a situation. Is it a health hazard? And if so, to whom?

Presumably whatever water might be used in the house would end up in the sewer system, even though the resident is not known to pay either for water or for sewer service. It might be hard to find out for sure as long as the Borough is without a representative at the sewer authority. The Borough’s seat was recently vacated by Maureen Crook, and Council is accepting applications from volunteers.

Gas drilling in the area will need a lot of water, and Council member Jerry MacConnell reported that he was contacted by a representative of Chesapeake Energy scouting for access to the river. It has been reported that Chesapeake has a permit to draw up to a million gallons per day from the river. What everyone wants to know is how will their trucks get to the river to drink? It’s not likely that the Borough would offer the use of their riverside parks no matter how much money was offered.
On the other hand, Borough Secretary Sheila Guinan, who also happens to be a Supervisor of surrounding Great Bend Township, said that one of the energy companies is preparing a site off old Route 11 in the township north of the Borough. She said that her township is contracting to have all of its roads posted so that, should any unusual damage result from the operations, the township can go to the gas companies for money to fix them.

Water makes grass grow, of course. And the grass overgrowing the sidewalks along Main Street have been a nagging concern of Mr. MacConnell for some time. Council President Rick Franks reported some conversations about the topic and asked Council to thrash it out once and for all. The debate got a mite warm for a while, with Mr. MacConnell and Councilman Mike Wasko insisting that, since Council had voted last summer to have the sidewalks on Main Street edged and cleaned up, they expected it to be done.

Council member Joe Collins, who supervises the maintenance of the streets and parks, told his colleagues last Fall that the job was too big for Borough employees alone. He also thinks that edging sidewalks, like shoveling snow from them, should be the responsibility of the homeowners; the Borough, after all, does not own the sidewalks. Others were concerned that doing such work on Main Street would lead residents elsewhere in the Borough to expect the same service.

Many residents not only don’t edge their sidewalks, they don’t clear the snow from them either, despite an ordinance requiring it. The ordinance has never been enforced. Nevertheless, Mr. MacConnell reminded Council that the sidewalks were installed by the Borough at a cost of about $30,000 (mostly paid by a grant) at the time the sewer was put in. He is concerned that the vegetation will eventually ruin the concrete walks and imperil that investment.

In the end Mr. MacConnell dropped his demand for the edging. But then, when the annual Spring street sweeping came up for discussion, it occurred to Mr. Franks that the Borough has paid to have all the streets in the Borough swept EXCEPT Main Street. Last year Council experimented with a collaborative community effort to get the gravel accumulated over the winter collected and disposed of, with mixed results.

Most of this is an effort to spruce up the little town, make it look better, especially for travelers passing through … along Main Street. Council is still considering ideas for replacing welcome signs at both ends of town, and hopes to get better pricing on some nice signs similar to those at Kirkwood, up the road in New York, which are said to have cost about $1,000 apiece.
The rest of the signs in the Borough will probably have to be replaced over the next few years, at a cost the Borough will be strained to afford. Federal regulations adopted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2006 require all street signs be larger and more reflective. Stop signs also need higher reflectivity. Replacing all these signs by the January 2012 deadline could cost the Borough more than $5,000.

But where to put the stop signs? There is some dispute about the placement of stop signs at one intersection on Washington Street, which all agreed would probably be ignored anyway. Some say that the corner is a safety hazard, yet Mr. Collins said he observed the intersection on several occasions at different times of day over a period of several days and saw no traffic to speak of. He said that placing new stop signs can require a formal survey, which the Borough is ill able to afford.
If they had more – or more reflective – stop signs, who would enforce them? Mr. Collins asked Council if a letter might be sent to the Montrose Police asking them to reconsider their decision not to lease some of their officers for patrol in Great Bend. Last month a representative of New Milford Borough, which uses Montrose police occasionally, attended a Great Bend Council meeting and said that reports of questionable patrolling practices in New Milford were unfounded. Mr. MacConnell said that from what he was still hearing, “that’s not straight skinny.”

Council did decide to build a salt storage shed near the Borough garage this summer. Salt for use on town streets can be hard to come by, and bagged salt is expensive. A storage shed would allow the Borough to purchase in bulk; but the shed has to be built to rigorous specifications so that the salt doesn’t leach into the ground water. There it is again.

And Council voted to adopt the recommendation of Tony Conarton to purchase a defibrillator unit for the Borough building, which doubles as the Blue Ridge Senior Center.

Spring will be nigh – and the river will be high – by the time the Great Bend Borough Council meets again, on Thursday, April 2, beginning at 7:00pm.