Aug 21, 2014

The Battle For Wehr's Dam

At last night's South Whitehall Township Commissioner's meeting, it appeared that Commission President Christina Morgan was marching to the Wildlands Conservancy's drum. Since this past June, when the Conservancy proposed demolishing the dam, a citizen's group has formed to preserve the dam and the township's history. At the previous meeting this month, the Commissioners agreed to sponsor an independent engineering study of the dam. Last night, they indicated that they would rely on the Wildlands' engineering report, hardly an independent evaluation. Ms. Morgan also referred to public hearings on the subject, a suggestion made by the Wildlands back in June, when Ms. Morgan asked them how to handle public opposition to the dam's removal. It's clear that the citizens, after four presentations and over 1,000 signatures, don't want the hearings, they want a decision. The Wildlands has stated that demolishing the dam is their highest priority. They have already demolished nine local dams. They should be invited back in a timely fashion to make their final presentation, and then the Commissioners should vote on the dam's future.  The Wildlands is entitled to their proposal, but they should not be determining the timeline about the fate one of the most historic icons in the township.
photograph by Gregg Obst

Addendum: 1.The Wildlands current study, which the Commissioners are waiting upon, is a bogus, decision delaying tactic. The Wildlands, in their June presentation, already claimed that the dam is past it's expected life (in their opinion) and that it has five cracks. They stated that they would pay for it's demolition at no expense to the Township.

2. At the previous meeting, Ms. Morgan mentioned being "fiscally responsible," alluding to the cost analysis of maintaining the dam, or allowing the Conservancy to demolish it. We concerned with local history, and the widely appreciated ambience of the park, believe that it would be better to be "historically responsible." They are not building any more gist mill dams, especially those that then flow under a Covered Bridge.

3. If the commissioners decide to save the dam, any repair costs are not an immediate concern. The structure will stand "as is" for many years, while grants are solicited to repair this historic structure.

4. At that point the dam should be added to the Historic Overlay District, with adjoining Wehr's Bridge, so residents need not again defend their history.


Dreaming of Justice said...

This is really about hijacking history for the convenience of the almighty dollar. It is beyond clear The Wildlands Conservancy is out of it's stated mission boundaries: a park which contains a historic structure is not a "wildlands". The Wildlands Conservancy is about nabbing the next grant, and to have to pass on the grant for destroying Wehr's dam is going to pinch the Wildlands Consrvancy's bottom line, period. Do we need to physically block access to the dam? Will it have to go that far? Do the People of South Whitehall have NO say?

Anonymous said...

Don't we know that being Historically responsible for the legacy of this beautifully sculptured almost pristine area, is against the "new status quo" of destroy all human encroachment and let it "go wild" unchecked??
'BULL'! Just "follow the money" trail needs of the self serving Wildlands Conservancy.....PJF

monkey momma said...

I would like to see an independent report on the condition of the dam. I know some dams are very costly to repair - the immediate finances might well be a real issue here.

That said, the dam is beautiful. It's worth saving. Those "before" and "after" pictures you posted a while ago of the Robin Hood Bridge dam demolition really speaks volumes. I hope you showed that to S. Whitehall officials in your discussions.

I wonder what the other volunteers at the fish hatchery think of the planned dam removal.

Also, as far as I can tell, riparian buffers are really really ugly. They truly are just big long swaths of weeds blocking entry into and views of the water. It seems they would attract a whole lot of bugs, which is not what you want in abundance at a beautiful park. Some may think this shallow of me (pun intended) to focus on things like beauty and bugs. Maybe I am shallow. But I love this park JUST THE WAY IT IS and I would be so sad to see this irreversible change.

michael molovinsky said...

momma@5:59, i have no doubt that the Conservancy exaggerated the repairs needed. to replace that unique vista with a wall of 6' weeds would indeed depreciate the township. people have been enjoying that beauty for generations.

i wrote this post with some regret. the commissioners have been very considerate toward me; however, my purpose is to accurately report on the status of saving the dam.

guy williams said...

I am with ya on this one, Monkey Mama. Its all about the money. Repair and or restoration costs are probably what drives most opinions concerning the dam. I also agree 100% with Michael that the dam should stay and be maintained for future generations. If money can be raised for political campaigns, money can be raised for dam preservation.