The South Whitehall Commissioners never expected the voters to approve the referendum in November of 2016 to retain Wehr's Dam, especially when they had associated it with a possible tax increase. They thought that they could accommodate the Wildlands Conservancy in demolishing the dam, with no political consequence to themselves.
In July of 2014, the Commissioners gave the Conservancy permission to conduct a study of the dam, which was intended to justify its demolition. The engineering firm for the Conservancy then claimed that the dam was leaking under itself, at one small spot. On February 13, 2015, the DEP wrote the township; "The Wildlands Conservancy has recently brought to our attention that there is some confusion relating to the current condition of the Wehr's Dam..." For the Commissioners to have granted the Wildlands Conservancy permission to interface with the state was improper. The dam is the historic property of the township residents, not an outside party.
A subsequent study of the dam by another engineering firm could not confirm the above referenced leak. It is now necessary for the Commissioners to put aside their agenda of accommodating the Wildlands Conservancy, and honor the results of the referendum. They must change their Park Master Plan, which still calls for the dam's demolition. They must now advocate for the dam with the state DEP, and correct any misconceptions about its condition. The reality is that the dam is an overbuilt massive concrete wedge, sitting on an enormous concrete platform, which would stand for another 100 years with no repair.
Although its been over three years since the referendum, the township hasn't applied one dab of cement to the dam. On the contrary, they have been rebidding the repairs trying to actually get a higher price, to exceed the amount authorized by the voter's referendum. They are trying to undo the will of the voters. The dam sits in a state of benign neglect, waiting for the state to accommodate the Wildlands Conservancy and condemn it.
photocredit: Jason Fink
above reprinted from February 2017
ADDENDUM FEBRUARY 2020: Since this letter to the editor was written in 2017, things have gotten worse for Wehr's Dam. The former South Whitehall park director, Randy Cope, is now in charge of Public Works for the township. His father is the former CFO of the Wildlands Conservancy.
1. Randy Cope now states that it will cost $1million to repair the dam, but he doesn't reveal that the cost increase is because of the communications between the Wildlands Conservancy and the state DEP. Those communications were intended to drive the repair cost above the amount approved by the voters in the referendum. Even though the dam is rated low hazard, the township made no attempt to defend the dam against the Wildlands' allegations. The Pennsylvania DEP is fine with the Wildlands' scheme, and boasts about more dam removals than any other state in the country.
2. The Wildlands Conservancy has campaigned to demolish the Dam since 2014, and now is in charge of the Township's multi $million dollar Greenway Project through the park.
3. Another main supporter of the Wildlands in South Whitehall is commissioner Tori Morgan, who has been appointed President of the new township board of commissioners.
4. Although the Morning Call has rejected and ignored the above letter since 2017, I'm hopeful that new leadership at the paper will investigate these violations against both the voters and local history.
ADDENDUM APRIL 12, 2021: Former S.W. Commissioner Brad Osborne on L.V. Ramblings asks for examples of betrayed trust in South Whitehall... perhaps nothing illustrates this problem more than the insincerity of the board in regard to Wehr's Dam. Recently resigned commissioner Matt Mobilio wondered out loud how the board could get out from under the obligation of repairing Wehr's. Commissioner president Tori Morgan has been aligned with the Wildlands Conservancy's obsession to demolish the dam since day one in 2014.