By John Chambless
This past winter was hard on everyone, but residents of East Marlborough Township came to the township's board of supervisors meeting on April 7 to vent their frustrations about piles of branches that have not been picked up by township crews after an ice storm caused widespread tree damage.
In the past, the township offered free pickup and chipping of branches less than six inches in diameter if residents put the branches at the end of their driveways. But this year, with the four-man road crew overwhelmed with plowing, and now with patching storm-damaged roads, the chipping service had been discontinued. That drew the ire of more than a dozen residents, who turned the meeting's public-comment period into an hour of wrangling over what to do with the branches.
Richard Hannum, Jr., was chairing the meeting because board chairman Cuyler Walker was not in attendance. Faced with the packed audience, he acknowledged that, “this doesn't just affect 10 or 12 households – it affects just about everybody in the township. We've been fortunate to have relatively mild winters before this one, but we've had to suspend the chipping program.” He cited the overburdended road crew and the financial drain of paying for plowing and road salting operations, as well as the road patching that takes precedence over branch collection.
Rob McPherson, of the Beversrede development, said that half of the neighborhood lies in Pocopson Township, and that crews had removed fallen branches from homes in Pocopson, leaving the homes in East Marlborough Township with piles of branches in their front yards.
Ed Burns, who lives on Longwood Road, said, “I'm the guy with all the limbs. I did put them on the street, per the website instructions.”
Hannum said the notice of free branch pickup has since been taken off the township website. Township solicitor Frone Crawford admitted that “having it up there on the website does create a public relations problem, which is what we're seeing here tonight.”
Roadmaster Dennis Mellinger was in the audience, and said that, “This is our busiest time of the year for the roads. There are only four of us on the crew. We've never dealt with piles of branches like this. The roads are in bad shape and they take priority over chipping. We're trying to get the roads patched up. If we have to do the chipping, too, it might be fall before we get to you.”
Mellinger also suggested that residents have been piling more than storm-damaged limbs in their driveways. “There's more out there than what came down in the storm,” he said. “The piles keep growing. It's the worst I've ever seen.” The township, he explained, owns only one wood chipper.
Hannum and the board ultimately voted to authorize dividing up the township into sections and getting three bids for an outside firm to help pick up and chip branches, at a cost of no more than $19,000 per section. That will speed up the process, since spending an amount over $19,000 requires a more formal bid process that must be published, resulting in a delay of more than a month.
Supervisor Robert Weer, Sr., cautioned that crews would only pick up branches that were neatly stacked in driveways. “We're not going to be sending crews into your back yard to pick up branches,” he said. “We will only pick up by the curb. And this could take a while,” he added. “We ask you to bear with us.”
Also during the public comment period, Unionville village resident Jack Greenwood challenged the board and township engineer Jim Hatfield over renovations being made to a property next door to his home. Greenwood said that calculations for a parking area at the building, which is being turned into apartments, exceeded township regulations regarding impervious coverage. Hatfield admitted that his calculations for one parking area were mistaken, and that the impervious coverage did now exceed the 30 percent threshold allowed. “If the parking is in excess of 30 percent, the contractor will have to change it, yes,” Hatfield told Greenwood.
Greenwood also complained about dirt being spread from the construction site, vibrations from earth-moving equipment that had cracked the plaster in his home, and the fact that parking spots had no turnaround areas, forcing drivers to back out onto a street. “It's a safety issue,” Greenwood said. “People are going to be backing out, and there's no sight line into the alley. I don't think that's proper and safe access. I think this parking area needs to be re-evaluated.”
Greenwood also objected that no land disturbance permit had been filed by the contractor, and that the company faced no penalty as a result. Township manager Jane Laslo told Greenwood that, “The penalty is to correct it. We're interested in getting it right. When we became aware of this problem, I asked Mr. Hatfield to inspect it, which he did.”
“Well, I'm the one who lives next door to it,” Greenwood said. “I'm the one who paid the penalty.”
Another construction project also caused a complaint from Stephen Silver of Harbor Management, the owners of the Hilton Garden Inn on Route 1. The vacant gas station next door to the hotel has been torn down and the site is being turned into a Bank of America location, but Silver told the board that the construction crew has been parking equipment along Onix Drive, not containing the mud from the site, parking cars illegally, and has encroached on the hotel's property with a construction fence.
Silver told the board, “I've complained to the crew at the site, but they have no respect for what I have to say. You're the ones with the stick, not me. I appreciate any attention you can give to this matter.”
Crawford told Silver that the township will investigate whether the project is encroaching on public roads and causing an unsafe condition, but that private property disputes are not a township matter. Hatfield said that the fence in question had been moved after Silver complained, but Silver maintained that not all of the fence had been moved. “I”ve talked to the construction company at the site,” Silver said. “I'm not hopeful.”
The progress of the Unionville Community Park was outlined by Hatfield, who said that “we're about 65 percent complete for phase one of the park.” He explained that the funding for the first phase, $545,000, still had some grant money remaining available, and that the township could take some elements of the park that had been planned for the second phase, and budget them into the first phase.
“We need to use the money or we lose it,” Hatfield explained, suggesting that a covered picnic pavilion, trees, a sidewalk and a trail connection could be moved into phase one, reducing the township's costs for the second phase of the park – essentially saving the township $70,000 on the next part of the construction.
The board approved the idea, and Hatfield said he would get specific dollar figures and present them to the board next month.
The appointment of a fire marshal led to a lengthy discussion. The township proposed using an outside service, United Inspection Agency, to handle the marshal's chief duty, which is inspecting new construction or existing structures regarding fire safety. The agency charges $65 per hour for a marshal, but supervisor Eddie Caudill questioned whether it might be better “to go in-house,” and use police lieutenant Robert Clarke for the part-time duties. Supervisor John Sarro also questioned whether the board could save money by using Clarke, but Weer objected, saying that Clarke already works a 40-hour week as police lieutenant, and that adding fire marshal duties would create a problem if he was busy in court or performing law-enforcement tasks during the day. After debate, the board approved hiring United Inspection Agency, with Caudill objecting.
The appointment of emergency management coordinator, however, was the board's next task, and they agreed that Clarke could handle that job. The coordinator must maintain and update an emergency plan for the township, and serve on-site in case of an emergency. They voted unanimously to appoint Clarke to the position.