Compliance issues plague Akron’s Walnut Street sidewalk installation

By on July 2, 2019

Sidewalks involved more discussion than any other topic on Akron borough council’s agenda at their regular monthly meeting at borough hall in June. Tom Murray, Sr., said he joined borough council 25 years ago because he was unhappy with the way sidewalk issues were handled back then. Now, more than 19 years into a new century, Murray said he’s still not happy.

He says the main issue is the way engineering specs were and/or were not complied with during the construction of sidewalks on Walnut Street, a street that has hitherto not had any curbs and sidewalks. Walnut is scheduled for repaving sometime before the start of the school year this fall. The borough’s practice for property owners who do not have sidewalks is to require their installation when the street running past their property is repaved or paved for the first time. A number of council members have walked Walnut Street and noted discrepancies from the borough’s specifications for things like curb height, curb radiuses and ramps for the disabled.

Borough manager Sue Davidson was directed to write a letter to ARRO Consulting instructing them to remedy, at their expense, the deficiencies in any work already completed on the south side of Walnut Street, and to ensure that specs are adhered to as sidewalks and curbs are installed on the north side of the street.

Next on the borough’s repaving schedule is Front Street, which is to be completed in 2020. A number of Front Street residents were present at the meeting to voice their frustration at, first, the need for any sidewalks at all, and second, how to retain a contractor to do the work when compliance to specifications hasn’t exactly been a cut-and-dried procedure. One resident said he didn’t see the need for a sidewalk in the first place, since the paved rail trail is just ten feet away from the present roadway.

Another factor complicating the Front Street issue is the alley that begins on Fulton Street and curls around the properties on the north half of Front Street. The point where the alley opens onto

Front Street is part of the new sidewalk equation, but there seem to be no clear answers about the numbers that need to be plugged into that equation.

The June 11 meeting opened with a presentation by Farley Fry of Hanover Engineering, whose Lancaster-Lebanon office is located in Ephrata. Hanover has been advising the borough on its compliance with Pennsylvania’s municipal separate stormwater sewer system requirements — MS4 — for a number of years. Fry reported that the borough is in good shape with its MS4 projects, including a Hanover-designed rain garden to be installed on the east side of the parking lot behind borough hall.

A project to stabilize eroding stream banks between Akron’s portion of the rail trail and Bomberger Road properties began April 24 with installation of these giant limestone boulders. Photo by Dick Wanner.

The rain garden will have a negligible effect on the Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to reduce the quantity of both water and pollutants entering the state’s waterways. However, Fry pointed out, the rain garden is seen as having value as a demonstration of how individual property owners can take measures to reduce stormwater runoff from their properties.

What will make an impact — and earn the borough a gold star from DEP watchdogs — is a project to install 800 feet of a 35-foot wide wooded riparian buffer along both banks of the stream channel that runs through the north side of Roland Park. Fry spent some time discussing that potential project.

Later in the meeting, council voted to appoint Hanover Engineering to become the borough’s general engineer for projects involving water, sewer, streets, stormwater, zoning and other engineering issues. The firm will continue to handle the work it is currently doing, but will add the duties previously assigned to ARRO. Upon learning that the borough was shopping for a new engineer, two other firms had attended council meetings to pitch their services. Council members felt most comfortable with Hanover, and voted unanimously to retain them.

One of Hanover’s first assignments will be to have a company employee climb the borough’s century-old water tower to check on the installation of the T-Mobile hardware attached to the top of the structure. Questions have been raised about the quality of the installation, but no volunteers had come forward to climb up and take a look.

In other business:

• At the urging of Police Chief Tom Zell, council voted to hire Craig Johnson as a part-time police officer. Johnson currently works as a full-time officer for a Reading area force, but budget realities may find him without a job in the coming year. Johnson is a former military police officer and a licensed EMT. Zell said that his department is currently understaffed, and that there are times when only one officer is on overnight duty. In the past decade, Zell said, drug-related incidents have become more dangerous because, he believes, drug users are using mixtures that tend to promote more violent behavior. A part-time officer will help ensure that there are normally two officers on overnight duty. Johnson will start as soon as possible, and will be paid $20 per hour.
• Council voted to increase the application fee for a zoning hearing from the current $400 to $650 to more accurately reflect the actual hearing costs.
• The possibility of shelters for Red Rose bus commuters was discussed. They would be paid for by Red Rose. One would be located on Route 272 to the south of 10,000 Villages, with the other located directly across the street.
• Borough Manager Sue Davidson announced that she had, at council’s urging, advertised for a part-time administrative assistant.
• Davidson said that a storm sewer project on Bomberger Road had been completed by Property Solutions at a cost of $35,000. Another project to stabilize eroding streambanks between the backyards of the rail trail and the backyards of half-a-dozen Bomberger Road residents had been completed by Flyway Excavating at a cost of $25,000.
Dick Wanner is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.


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