Jul 25, 2016
South Whitehall's Offended Commissioner
After my presentation last week, one commissioner stated that he was offended by my statement that they were accommodating the Wildlands Conservancy. He claimed that he didn't even know a member of the Conservancy. I should have introduced him to his park director, who sits in front of him at every meeting, and gives a report.
The Wildlands Conservancy provided the main input in formulating South Whitehall's Master Park Plan in 2012. Even then, the finished plan recommended that Wehr's Dam be removed, not because it needed repairs, but because dams have become currently unfashionable with environmentalists.
The dam was the most substantial local dam of its era. At that time of Harry Trexler and his cement company, monumental things were built from concrete, including Allentown's 8th Street Bridge. When you visit the dam, the portion you see protruding out of the water is the narrowest part of the structure. The dam is massive wedge over 6 feet wide at the bottom. Then that massive wedge sits on a thick concrete platform, 14 feet wide. At the last state inspection, the report concluded that the dam was overall in good condition. They did find one minor short crack that they wanted patched.
Because the Wildlands Conservancy wanted to demolish the dam, they paid for a study that recommended that the dam be totally rebuilt, at a cost of $1.5 million dollars. The minor crack could have been patched by township workers as in past inspections, or even by a masonary contractor, at a very modest cost. The dam is considered by the state as low hazard. That means that because of its location in a park, it poses no risk to private property or people. It's a historic, scenic delight; It doesn't matter how much water goes over or through the dam. However, the objective of their study was to make the cost so high, that demolition seemed the only feasible alternative.
In 2015, the commissioners bowed to public pressure at that time, and voted not to allow the Wildlands to demolish the dam; I knew then that it was only a reprieve. Rather than just patch the dam, they waited for the public to simmer down, and then commissioned another study. The objective of that study was to make the price high enough to justify a referendum. They now claim that a third of the dam must be rebuilt, at a cost of $600,000. They know that a referendum will result in demolition, but absolve them politically of the decision.
In a responsible township, the park director would be defending the dam, which has been a destination for generations. However, the park director's father is a paid official of the Wildlands Conservancy. That's why when the commissioner said that he was offended by my accusation, I told him that I could care less.
Photo of Wehr's Dam, taken from under Wehr's Covered Bridge, by K Mary Hess