Tuesday, September 17, 2013

“You Are Fighting For Your View of the Creek. I Am Fighting For A Place to Put My Head At Night"

Upper Providence resident Patricia Stiefel’s comment, above, captures the essence of the dispute between Upper Providence and Lower Providence Townships over the regional sewer authority’s (LPVRSA’s) plans to place a middle interceptor along the Perkiomen creek, which I and others have written about at length previously.  At the end of the day, what’s more important: someone’s view from their kitchen window, or the very existence of a home that’s been in someone’s family for well over half a century and which they’ve personally owned for over 25 years? 
Last Thursday (9/12/13) another routine regional sewer authority (LPVRSA) meeting was on the calendar; I wasn’t going to attend since I had other plans. However, when I discovered that Frank and Patricia Stiefel – the Upper Providence residents whose home would be directly affected if the middle interceptor is placed on that side of the Perkiomen creek – would be attending, I knew I had to be there.

Since the Stiefel’s – and their home’s - very existence has been denied by some on the LP side of the issue, and their opinion of the project and the impact it will have on them grossly misrepresented or ignored by the same LP contingent, I’ve been trying to get the Stiefels to speak publicly about their position for months. As they are very private people who just want to be left alone, the Steifels were reluctant to wade into the fray.  Finally, they realized that with all the misrepresentations and smears being perpetrated by their counterparts across the creek, they needed to come forward before it’s too late.

It’s especially necessary given that LP hired a public relations firm some months ago to help move the needle on the issue for LP, so those neighbors, including mouthpiece Cathy Beyers, who has written numerous emotion-laden but fact-light missives relating the purported impact to her and her neighbors,   have that working in their favor. Upper Providence does not spend tax dollars on lobbyists for special interests in Harrisburg, so the Stiefels recognized that this too works against them and forced their hand to, forgive the pun, ‘pipe up’.
The last public LPVRSA meeting resulted in LP Democrat Supervisor candidate Jim Donohue disrupting the meeting by attempting to bully and start a physical fight with UP representative Bob Fieo, spouting obscenities in the process (video, here). Conspicuous by their absence, Donohue, Beyers and their usual contingent were not present Thursday night.
LPVRSA solicitor Bob Brandt began the meeting by addressing what happened at the July 11, 2013 meeting in which Donohue got out of hand. He mentioned that there is a difference between ‘public meetings’ and ‘public hearings’ and that ‘public meetings’ are not intended to be a forum for people to interrogate and harass Board members. He stated that the Board should never have allowed it to get to that point and Donohue should have been tossed for going after a Board member. Board chairman Terri Stagliano apologized to Bob Fieo for not doing more to prevent such an altercation and for not having Donohue removed for his actions once it occurred. She indicated that she has tried to give residents such as Beyer and Donohue a lot of leeway since the middle interceptor project affects them directly, but clearly that is being taken advantage of, and will not be the Board policy going forward.
Upper Providence Township supervisor Lisa Mossie was present and in the ‘public comment’ portion of the meeting, introduced the Stiefels to the Board and indicated that in light of the many misleading and outright false statements being made by Cathy Beyers and others in the local press and at local meetings about them and their position, they wanted the Board to hear from them, in person. Ms. Mossie also handed out a packet of a selection of the misleading and false statements that have appeared in various electronic and print media formats, most of which were authored by Beyer and with which the Stiefels specifically take issue.
The Stiefels addressed the Board directly, giving their address as 248 Cider Mill Road.  Frank Stiefel said that the sewer lateral already goes through their property and is presently about 40’ from their house. This time, to install the interceptor will ‘take their house’, and that this isn’t the case with any other affected property owner. He said ‘I’m a veteran (Marines)…I fought for my country so other people could stay in their properties. I wish you people would do the same for me”.

The LP folks are pushing for the option 3A, which will necessitate construction easements coming within 5 feet of the Stiefel house and at least six months of sewage bypass pumping, with a pump on their property.  While the pipe will not go directly through their house, the construction on the steep slope next to the Steifel home will destabilize an already eroding bank.  Given the huge fluctuations in rise and fall of the creek during heavy rain events, one can certainly understand the Steifel’s trepidation regarding construction so close to their little toehold on the Perkiomen.  
Stiefel's house is between Cider Mill Rd and the creek, above, and is next to steep slopes. Homes on the LP side don't come nearly as close to a proposed new trench.

Patricia Stiefel said that when LPVRSA wanted property from them they accepted their offer and gave it to them although ‘Fair Market Value’ of $264 for a ¼ acre of land was ‘a joke…elsewhere in Upper Providence an acre goes for $55,000 or more”.  She also said that this so-called ‘driveway’ the LP folks claim the Stiefels may get out of the project is neither needed nor wanted as they already have two entrances and exits out of their property.  Also, the new interceptor will not benefit the Stiefels as they have a well. Mrs. Stiefel  said that "We do not hook up to the existing sewer system and will not be able to hook up to the new one once installed, so while it may benefit ‘the public’, there is absolutely no benefit to us”. For the Stiefels, placement of the interceptor on the Upper Providence side of the creek is all downside.
Mr. Stiefel said it’s a shame that ‘some people have to say crap’ in order to try to make their case, and Mrs. Steifel said (referring to Cathy Beyer and her family specifically) “We were friends for a long time, but we no longer speak to any of them” as a result of the dispute and the things that have been said about them.
Even if you factor in claimed environmental impacts and consider alleged artifact finds of dubious value, issues which encompass both sides of the creek, all things being equal, what’s more important? Someone’s view or someone’s home?

As we exited the building, Mary Kaczor, one of the LP residents involved (and sister to Cathy Beyers), who’d arrived late to the meeting and missed most of the public comment portion of the meeting, ran up to the Stiefels and confronted them on their way to their car.  Clearly caught flat-footed, having never anticipated that the Stiefels would get involved, Kaczor feigned ignorance about any of the online comments – several of which she has actually responded to online herself -  and told the Steifels in front of Ms. Mossie and myself that she ‘had no idea that this was going to ruin their property’. In a dizzying display of sheer CYA, Kaczor’s comments ran the gamut from claiming she’s ‘an expert because she’s been to every meeting and thus knows all about this issue’ to claiming she didn’t know anything at all when presented with facts that opposed her views, including that she ‘didn’t have any idea that the pipe was coming through the Stiefel’s property’ AND that she ‘thought they were on board with the pipe going through their property’. 
When none of these arguments gained traction with the Steifels, Kaczor, apparently assuming that the Steifels were completely ignorant about the middle interceptor construction project, tried to lure them to her side by saying that they should all push LPVRSA for a pump station.  “Where are they going to put that, Mary?” asked an incredulous Frank Steifel, who knows that the pump station would be placed right on his front lawn and would necessitate a condemnation of his entire property.  Those of you who have been following along at home will remember that up until this past January, this pump station option was the preferred option of Lower Providence Township and the LP folks.
Out of options and desperate at this point, Kaczor pulled out her final ace in the hole:  The board members on the LPVRSA are all “evil” and all of the folks on the creek should band together and “just stop” this project.  The pipe could just go “somewhere else,” suggested this self-proclaimed “expert” on the project.
Indeed, for a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ Kaczor didn’t even know who Lisa Mossie, a party to the dispute, was when she was standing right in front of her and claimed to have never seen a plan that had lateral going anywhere near the Stiefel’s home (see plans, above). I wish I had taped the encounter, because it was utterly ludicrous. I’ve never seen someone vacillate so rapidly between two extremes - claiming to know everything and claiming to know nothing – in such a short period of time as I saw from Kaczor that night. Clearly Kaczor and her ilk aren’t used to a dialogue; they are used to having the soapbox to themselves, conjuring their own facts and controlling the narrative.
Kaczor complained that the Steifels ‘should have come to them’ if they had problems with the project;  the Stiefels feel the time for talking has long passed since Beyer & Co. represented them and their position without their knowledge or consent. 
As the sky opened up and torrents of rain poured down on both parties who make their home on the water, we all cut the talk short and departed. Apparently, though, Kaczor wouldn’t let it go, because she showed up unannounced at the Stiefel’s house later that evening, trying to do damage control and convince them to meet with ‘the engineer’ Fred Walker. Mr. Walker may be AN engineer, but he’s not THE LPVRSA engineer; he is LP’s representative on LPVRSA.
Aside from the central issue at hand – where the interceptor will be placed – the saddest part is this: two families that have known each other for decades and grew up together –Frank Stiefel reminisced about how Cathy and Mary would run through the sewer pipes when they were kids in the 70’s – have been torn apart because one of the parties has been so utterly consumed by this cause that they discarded all of that in favor of their own interests. Ultimately, the cost of this interceptor will be higher than just dollars, turtles and artifacts; it may cost someone’s home in addition to the long-standing friendship.
The Stiefels may be late in gearing up for war, but they are nonetheless determined to fight the smear campaign being waged against them, LPVRSA and their municipality. As Mrs. Steifel told Kaczor, “You are fighting for your view of the creek. I am fighting for a place to put my head at night. We haven’t said anything up til now, but I will fight you with my last dying breath”.




Michael Siegel said...

From Mike S

janice, a possible answer to all the problems. Place a sewage holding tank on the Township Property on River Rd.This tank can hold 2-3 million gallons of sewage. Lehigh County Sewer Authority did the same on their surcharging problem. Release the sewage at low flows- night while everyone is asleep. No sense building another interceptor at least for awhile. The township can lease out the area of the tank to the sewer authority, make money and solve a problem. Then they can look for building another plant in a better location. Has anyone given a thought about building a sewage plant on the superior property? The naysayers would be shut up and so will the Cathy Beyers of this world. A good use. The smells can be controlled. People need to be looking outside the box instead of at each other

Janice Kearney said...

While I commend you for thinking outside the box, let's look at this realistically.

You're not only talking about building a holding tank but building an entirely new sewage plant. The sewage plant in Oaks is less than 20 years old, isn't it? There's a cost to doing so and it's likely prohibitive.

The LP folks are complaining about sewage running in an underground line that they cannot see. They will never agree to a sewage tank. Plus to solve the problem, it would have to be down in that general vicinity, which presents all of the location problems of a pump station, plus the mechanical and staffing issues that made the pumps station unattractive to begin with, or else we are talking about pumping all that sh!t uphill to store it and release it slowly back down the valley.

Add in the fact that it's highly doubtful Superior Tube (or the Township, or the neighbors in the Evansburg area) would want the noise, smell and liability that comes with such a project on TOP of the TCE in the water there and I don't see how it solves much.

As with any public infrastructure project, sometimes there are no magic answers, and sometimes not everyone is going to be happy. Sometimes you have to go with the lesser of two evils.