City administrators were pressed to take action to solve chronic flooding problems in Allentown’s West End, rather than studying the problem for up to a year.
Those calls for action to help West End residents came during Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
In another matter at the meeting, two members of City Council were thwarted by their colleagues when they attempted to resurrect a proposed clean air ordinance for the city.
Council was told the Lehigh County Board of Elections will be sued for refusing to put that proposed law on the November ballot, where it would be decided by city voters. Council also was told some who still want to see that proposal on the ballot plan to attend Friday morning’s election board meeting.
Gail Tannenbaum, who lives on the 2200 block of W. Allen Street, went to the meeting to “educate” council about repeated flooding in the West End, which she said is caused by insufficiently sized sewer pipes “in several spots throughout our area.”
She said the city has known for at least 31 years that a flooding problem exists in that part of town, flooding she said has damaged more than 500 buildings.
She gave council members copies of a report done by the city in January 1985 that recommended expanding the West End sewer system.
“The city has been negligent in repairing the problem and therefore financially liable for all past and future damages,” charged Tannenbaum.
“My suggestion is you expedite the repair process to avoid future financial responsibilities. We will be legally dipping into the city’s wallet each and every time it floods until the problem is fixed.”
Tannenbaum said the city should have made repairs to end those problems before spending “a massive amount of money” to renovate the 19th Street theater district, which she noted is among the neighborhoods that get flooded.
“I can’t believe any businesses are willing to operate on or around 19th Street after being hit by floods time after time.”
She told council that property values of hundreds of West End residents plummeted overnight after being flooded by the Aug. 29 storm. She noted reduced property values result in reduced property taxes the city can collect.
On Sept. 12, many top city officials met with about 40 angry West End residents in City Hall to discuss the flooding issue. Officials said a new hydrology study, which could take up to one year to complete, must be done before any work is done to end the problem.
“It’s an issue without an easy solution, but an issue we’re going to address,” promised city managing director Francis Dougherty Wednesday. He told council about the study and also said city’s newly organized storm sewer division will take a much harder look at storm sewer operations.
“What concerns me are words like ‘study’ and ‘a harder look’,” said council member Jeanette Eichenwald. “What about action?”
“In my lexicon, that means action,” said Dougherty.
“I don’t think we need a study for a year,” said council vice president Ray O’Connell, who lives in the West End and drove through flooded areas that night.
“It’s a problem, it has to be resolved. We need action.
“These people can’t go through this storm after storm. The city government has a responsibility to help these people.”
O’Connell asked city administrations to provide council with periodic updates on progress they are making to solve the problem.
“Expedite the situation,” he told them. “We owe the citizens of Allentown action.”
“We don’t need more studies,” echoed another resident who did not identify himself when he addressed council. “Everybody knows what the problem is. Just fix the damn problem.”
Controversy over clean air ordinance continues
Rich Fegley, who represents Allentown Residents for Clean Air, which led the clean air ordinance petition drive, told council the election board will be sued because “it has no right whatsoever to keep this off the ballot.”
“We expect this to be on the ballot in November,” said Fegley.
Fegley asked City Council to step in and demand the election board put it back on the ballot. He said council at least should ask the election board to justify and explain its decision.