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Wanted: Sidewalks

Published July 10. 2012 05:01PM

The Packerton Yards sidewalk issue is still a hot topic on the minds of Mahoning Township supervisors.

Monday night they voted unanimously to send a response letter to Carbon Engineering, project engineers for the Carbon County Commissioners, informing them the township is in disagreement over the plans they are offering. They requested a sidewalk along Business Park Drive from Route 209 to the terminus in the park be included except for the area of the railroad crossing.

Supervisor Frank Ruch said the extension letters sent on June 20 and June 26 mention including either the sidewalk or the trail, and the only difference was the deadline date in the letters. The earlier letter granted a deadline of July 31, while the second letter penned after the last supervisors' meeting showed an Aug. 31 deadline.

"The cover letter sent with the extension says they are providing a trail in lieu of a (paved) walkway," said Chairperson John Wieczorek. He added the cover letter was quite legalistic and he believed engineer Ron Tirpak had input from attorney Ed Hughes in drafting it.

"The letter talks about using county code to bypass the township code to overstep the sidewalk issue," he said.

Solicitor Tom Nanovic, who is also the planning commission's solicitor, said Hughes attempted to argue that position during the last planning commission meeting, but he challenged him to cite case law that gave him the right to use county code to overrule township ordinances.

Hughes failed to do so when questioned and basically ignored the issue at that meeting while asserting the county could proceed in that manner since it is a county road.

Supervisor Bruce Steigerwalt added that the county commissioners were also seeking to renew the waiver requests previously placed before the township.

"We want a sidewalk on the side of the road and that's it," said Steigerwalt.

Wieczorek said he was in the office signing checks one day since the last meeting when engineer Mike Tirpak delivered the letters.

He said he asked Tirpak if the plans were updated for trails and sidewalks, but the engineer said they would like to set up a meeting to discuss the sidewalk issue with supervisors and commission members to get their input.

Wieczorek said he asked Tirpak, "'How could we have a meeting when you have offered nothing different?'"

He told the board the commissioners seem adamant about not doing sidewalks and are falling back on claiming county code usurps the township's ordinances, claiming since it's a county road they can follow the county code. Nanovic repeated he believed the county just cannot supersede township ordinances like that.

Steigerwalt said it was obvious that the commissioners were not going to change their stance and instead of wasting time he said they might as well take the township to court.

He indicated he was standing firm on the sidewalk issue for the safety of those using the park and if the courts force the township to accept not having sidewalks, then it will be on their hands if there is an accident. He just doesn't want the township to be responsible for someone getting hurt if the sidewalk is not installed.

Steigerwalt and Ruch made the motion to send a letter immediately to Carbon Engineering, disputing their interpretation of the request from the last meeting and informing them the supervisors are expecting to see sidewalks and trails on the plans that are to be submitted. Wieczorek added that he did not believe the county could pick and choose with which ordinances they should comply.

Steigerwalt pointed out the county planning commission did not use county codes when they reviewed the plans, they used the township code.

The motion to send the letter to Carbon Engineering disputing the premise of only including the walking trails passed on a 4-0 vote.

Supervisor Linda Benner later requested clarification about the Lehighton Water Authority parcel the commissioners were developing in conjunction with the Packerton Yards project.

She wanted to make sure that it was stated that when she asked if any of the homes along Packerton Dam Road where in danger of being torn down, Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said, "No, I don't believe so."

She mentioned that when the story originally ran, it stated Nothstein simply said no, but she felt it was important to make sure his conjecture was included.

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