Lehigh Valley

West End flood victims press city for action

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A couple of Allentown residents are trying to keep the pressure on city officials for action before floods again damage cars, homes and properties in their West End neighborhoods.

Gail Tannenbaum, who first brought the flooding issue to City Council at its Sept. 18 meeting, returned to council Wednesday night to ask for an update on what's being done.

"I'm very scared of the flooding," said Tannenbaum. "I'm very fearful that it's going to happen again."

The city is drafting a Request for Proposals, the first step in a competitive bidding process that involves advertising to hire a hydrology engineering firm, explained Francis Dougherty, the city's managing director.

"I don't know a date when that will be finished, but I know a draft is in existence," said Dougherty.

"It will take a little while," warned council president Julio Guridy. "It's not going to happen overnight."

"What is a little while?" asked Tannenbaum.

City officials said it will take at least a month to hire that engineer. Tannenbaum asked if they can speed that up. Both Dougherty and City Controller Mary Ellen Koval said the process already is being expedited.

Koval explained the RFP has to be "out on the street" for a certain amount of time to get responses to it.

Regarding funding to hire an engineering firm, Tannenbaum said: "I have a feeling you guys are going to come back to me and say there's no money once you get a number."

"That's not going to happen," said Guridy.

Tannenbaum told council she wrote to State Sen. Pat Browne and State Rep. Mike Schlossberg for help. She's talked to Browne, who told her he is going to work with the city on the issue, and she will be meeting with Schlossberg next week.

"I'm just giving you a heads up that I am moving forward faster than you," she told council.

"And once you know the problem, let me know," said Dougherty.

"What's that?" asked Tannenbaum.

Dougherty declined to repeat his remark.

Guridy said: "He said if you know the problem before we do, let us know. That's why we are hiring a hydrologist to look into it."

Another West End resident, Karina Quintana, objected to Dougherty's "sarcastic tone" toward Tannenbaum, telling him it was "uncalled for and unnecessary."

Council member Jeanette Eichenwald commended Tannenbaum for coming back to council about the flooding issue. "Unless someone who is directly involved with this problem comes every time to bring this up, things don't move as quickly."

She said as much as members of council may want to see the flooding problem resolved, the city needs constant reminders and requests for updates.

Eichenwald said the hydrology engineer that will be hired will only study the problem. "What we ultimately want to see is action to solve the problem."

City officials have said that study could take up to a year, would precede any actual improvements and would not only focus on chronic West End flooding, which last occurred Aug. 29.

West End residents say the city already studied the problem decades ago, resulting in a January 1985 report that recommended expanding the storm sewer system in the West End. They charge the city with being negligent for not improving that system.

At the September 18 council meeting, both Eichenwald and council vice president Ray O'Connell pushed city administrators for action to help residents. O'Connell said a study should not take a year to complete.

On Wednesday night, Quintana stood to assure council that, while Tannenbaum has been spearheading the effort to get the problem resolved, "Gail is not the only one holding this torch. She's not the only one that's here and upset and is going to ensure that it actually gets fixed."

After the meeting, Tannenbaum said Sen. Browne told her he cannot force the city to fix the problem, but can help it come up with funding. She was disappointed that the city did not commit to any timetable during the meeting.

On Sept. 12, many top city officials first met with about 40 angry West End residents in City Hall to discuss the flooding issue.

Tannenbaum has told council more than 500 homes and other buildings in the West End are impacted by repeated flooding.

Also during Wednesday night's meeting, city resident Ken Heffentrager asked council to find out the number of blighted properties in Allentown. He contended Mayor Ed Pawlowski gives a different answer every time he is asked that question, with his answers ranging from 175 to 400.

Guridy promised the city will get Heffentrager that number.

With winter coming on, when Allentown has more house fires, the city is seriously lacking shelters, warned Heffentrager, who is vice president of the Tenant Association of Allentown.

He said the city needs to develop emergency shelters, where people temporarily can live for several weeks if their homes are destroyed by fires. He said Philadelphia and even Detroit have buildings specifically designated to serve as emergency shelters.

He said the Red Cross will put people up in hotels for three days but then they are out on the street, even if they have children. He said there's nothing anyone else can do, because no funds are available anywhere. "Every single organization is out of money; we've investigated all of them. There is no where for these people to go."

He added: "A lot of these people work. They've got jobs. They're not deadbeats."
Guridy said the city is working on a funding source with another organization to help address that issue.

Council met in Mountainville Memorial Association in South Allentown Wednesday because its chambers in City Hall are being renovated.

Its next meeting will be Oct. 16 at the West End Youth Center, 848 N. 20th St.
Council hopes to be back in City Hall by November.

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