Archive: July, 2010
Not long ago, Kelly Drive â surely the most crowded and heavily-used stretch of park in the city, at least on weekends â was largely bereft of a simple, but precious resource: drinking water.
There was a fountain near the art museum, and another about a half-mile away, at Lloyd Hall, where a kiddie fountain had been broken since last summer, causing children to attempt to drink from the adult fountain in an awkward, upside-down posture, as I noted in a recent column.
Fairmount Park Director Mark Focht told CP that fixing the fountain was "a major project," and that he couldn't say when it would be repaired.
|Good work, Mark Focht
But that fountain, as I note in this week's Man Overboard!, has miraculously been fixed anyway, just a few weeks later.
What's more, the park has seen the very recent unveiling of no less than two new drinking fountains along the East Drive.
This is a good thing: the Bicycle Coalition found in a survey of path users that water and bathroom access ranked first and second respectively in a list of desired improvements. And while these things might seem small, the difference between having and not having access to water and bathrooms can decide whether whole swaths of the path are accessible to some users, especially families with children.
So a big thumbs-up to the Department of Parks & Recreation, and to Mr. Focht for taking a few crucial steps toward restoring some of Fairmount Park's faded glory.
Yes, slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but yes, it still goes on: In 2008, we saw the most recent federal slavery conviction by the federal government, who charged employers of tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida with "beating workers who were unwilling to work or who attempted to leave their employ picking tomatoes, holding their workers in debt, and chaining and locking workers inside u-haul trucks as punishment," as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers puts it â a charge that amounted, prosecutors said, to slavery.
Among the worst abuses was imprisonment in the trucks, as the Ft. Myers News Press reported in December, 2008:
One of the victims, Mariano Lucas Diego, spoke of what he'd endured: beatings and nighttime imprisonment in a truck, where the family's captives would have to urinate and defecate in the corners.
The Coalition is on tour now in a truck â like the one Mr. Diego was held captive in â they call the "Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum," which will be on Independence Mall until 8 P.M.
Here's a bummer of a story:
Last night, thieves apparently made off with copper tubing from the Lillian Marrero library, which had apparently been closed for air conditioning repairs.
Library Director Siobhan Reardon confirmed in an email this evening, telling CP:
"Last night much the copper piping for the water supply inside the building was cut out. The theft affects the Library operation, Philabundance and the City's L&I unit there as well. I cannot tell you much more â who did it â how they broke into the building etc. Naturally, we're working with the police. The building is closed until we, at a minimum, can get running water throughout the building again."
Mr. Weaver joined the Department in 2007 and became press secretary in 2008. Recently, he was handling a great deal of Marcellus Shale-related information for the press â in which capacity I exchanged several emails and phone calls with him (He was, just to put it out there, quite cordial, responsive, and helpful).
It's not unusual that as the Rendell administration winds down, we're seeing higher-ups leave their posts for positions in the private sector. But it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on where they're winding up â especially given the recent spate of officials leaving the Rendell administration to work in natural gasâ after that administration was exceedingly friendly to and well-financed by that industry.
So where did Mr. Weaver go? We don't know. Do you?
DEP spokesman and acting Press Secretary Tom Rathbun said only that:
"Neil has gone to work for a private firm that is not involved in the Oil & Gas industry," and that "It is a public relations position and not related to lobbying."
Breaking: Fire Engine Co. 38 to be disbanded for 18-24 months; Fire Commissioner to inform firefighters of city's new 'rolling brownouts' plan tonight
CP received a call today from a member of Fire Engine Company 38, who said that his company had been informed late last Friday that they were to be disbanded and sent to other stations.
"That's another station closed down, and nobody knows about it," the firefighter said.
Mayor Nutter recently announced a budget rebalancing that included cuts to the Police and Fire departments' overtime costs. This is the first we've heard of any companies actually closing.The last time engine companies were closed was during the 2008-2009 budget crunch, when Mayor Nutter authorized the deactivation of 5 engine and 7 ladder companies.
And just to put things in a bit of context: the administration and the firefighters' union have been going at it and pointing fingers at each other for years now.
Company 38 is based in Tacony, but the construction of a highway off ramp caused the company's building to be closed; About a year ago, Engine 38 firemen moved into the facilities already occupied by Engine 33 Company, at Richmond & Kirkbride streets.
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers confirmed today that Engine 38 will now be "temporarily out of service," but emphasized that the city is building a new facility, in Tacony, which will house Engine 38 Company when it's completed â in somewhere between 18 and 24 months, he thinks.
Mayor Spokesman Doug Oliver added in an email that the new station would include a "community room," and that "This is good news in light of budget challenges."
"Poor Tacony," was the first response I got from IAFF Local 22 President Billy Galt, who added that many of the firefighters' runs are medical and that "the further we are away, the longer it takes fro us to get there, and the worse it is for that patient."
The firefighter who called, meanwhile, expressed another concern â smaller, maybe, but heartfelt: the dissolution of his and his colleagues' working relationship.
"When we get off duty, we all do the same thigns together â we hang out, we play horseshoes toether, our wives know each other . . .I'm sure we'll all fit in wherever they send us," he concluded, "but in firefighting, you have a personal relationship with each other.
Exactly one year ago, we reported the CP's findings that the construction of the $150M Chester Soccer Stadium, which hosts the Philadelphia Union and was funded mostly through various streams of taxpayer dollars â raised a few questions.
While that public money had been secured with promises of an ancillary "mixed-use" development â with which most of the anticipated jobs and economic benefits were associated â it turned out that almost every penny of taxpayer support was going directly to the stadium instead, which promised few jobs and whose owners keep all ticket and concession revenues.
In fact, CP's investigation found that developers (and part-owners) Buccini / Pollin Group hadn't so much as begun preliminary work, like environmental reports, on the "mixed-use" development, and that serious contamination of the land reserved for it made the possibility that it would ever be built seem slimmer still.
Now comes a new revelation: the Delaware County Council has approved a tax hike for hotels to help pay for the $30M the county spent on the project â money that was supposed to come entirely from gambling revenues at Harrah's Chester.
It's an interesting move, especially since Buccini / Pollin Group president Mike Hare had assured this reporter last year that his company would be required to pay back that money if the mixed-use development wasn't built â which, of course, it hasn't been.
Last summer, I threw upon the Clog what I thought was a casual question: is canvassing exploitative?
You know who we're talking about: the youngish, idealistic, earnest folks asking if you've got "a minute for the environment," or somesuch, that you see all over Center City especially during the summer.
The origin of the question was a personal experience with a friend who had moved to Philly to work not as a canvasser herself, but as a manager of other canvassers. Her work stories were eyebrow raising, to say the least: she'd work 60, 70-hour weeks; she'd work weekends; she was required to put in what she characterized as mandatory "volunteer" time; she'd get sent out of town for trainings and have to sleep on a colleague's couch.
The little post drew considerable response, including a links to a veritable mountain of writing on the topic, ranging from worker treatment issues to the canvassing model of fund-raising itself and the companies and organizations behind it.
It being about as summer as summer gets right now I thought it high time for some follow-up.
So I'm putting out the call: canvassers, field managers, directors former, current, friends-of, and especially those of you based in Philadelphia lend me your tips, tell me your stories.
Comments are always welcome below (don't mind our troll it's harmless, and amusingly incoherent), but also feel free to contact me directly by email, especially if you have a story worth a little chat time.
To those currently employed and a little nervous: we can certainly talk about anonymity.
You already know that the new state budget means lots of cash for new prisons, $5.5 million in library cuts and $1.1 million in child care cuts. But what about everything else? In our new feature Budget Fuss, we'll be looking at lesser-reported casualties (and gains all two of them) in the state budget.
In this week's A Million Stories, we explored the $308 million going toward the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), which provides grants for beneficiaries who match the state's buy-in dollar-for-dollar. Gov. Ed Rendell and supporters say RACP is a way to create jobs; critics say it's a way to buy votes and show clout, and that if you want to create jobs, there are better ways to do it than building a library named after Sen. Arlen Specter.
We told you a few of our favorite RACP projects $2 million going to Antrim Township for, well, the state doesn't know yet; $5 million for the "redevelopment of an abandoned historic former schoolhouse" in Luzerne County; $3 million going to a rec center at King's College, a private Catholic school with 2,200 students but what about all the rest?
Here's every last RACP project in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, just in case your wonky self wanted to know (and FYI, if you want to see all RACP projects in the entire state, go here, to section 6).
$20 million: Acquisition, infrastructure, construction and other related costs for the American Revolution Center
$5 million: Construction, infrastructure and other related costs for mixed-use development on Gray's Ferry Corridor
$10 million: Construction of a Comprehensive Applied Research/Educational facility at Drexel University, including related costs
$15 million: Acquisition, infrastructure, construction and other related costs for redevelopment of the Tasty Baking Co. facility at Fox and Roberts Streets, including adjacent areas
$5 million: Acquisition, infrastructure, construction and other related costs for Norris Square Civic Association's mixed-use complex
$1 million: Infrastructure, construction and other related costs for an inpatient specialty hospital at the Wills Eye Institute
$7.5 million: Acquisition, infrastructure, construction and other related costs for a facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for commercial, industrial or multipurpose use
$5 million: Acquisition, infrastructure, construction and other related costs for development by ASPIRA, Inc., of Philadelphia at the Cardinal Dougherty High School
$5 million: Infrastructure, construction, renovation and other related costs for the Independence Visitor Center
$10 million: Construction, demolition, land acquisition, infrastructure, redevelopment and other related costs for Philadelphia University, including the Arlen Specter Library
$750,000: Land acquisition, site preparation, renovation, demolition, construction, infrastructure and other related costs for campus expansion and facility improvements at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
$10 million: Construction and other related costs for mixed-use retail and hotel project at Fourth and Race Streets
$3 million: Construction, infrastructure, redevelopment and other related costs for a new Community Legal Services building
For Bucks County:
$340,000: Rehabilitate track and install unloading equipment at Junell Corporaiton/Adv. Lube
$5 million: Construction, renovations and infrastructure improvements in the Bucks County Enterprise Zone
$15 million: Construction, infrastructure and other related costs at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex
For Delaware County:
$10 million: Rehabilitation and enhancement of the Union Square Neighborhood Revitalization District, including blight removal, streetscape remediation and new construction
$5 million: Acquisition, construction, infrastructure and other related costs for the retail development of a 35-acre site in Upper Darby
For Montgomery County:
$1.5 million: Construction, renovations and infrastructure improvements for an industrial facility
$7.5 million: Acquisition, construction and other related costs for a mixed-use commercial/retail development within the boundary of Fornance, Wood and Locust streets
On the Saturday before last (the date of the canceled Greek Weekend) Philadelphia police closed down South Street when, they say, an influx of visitors (especially teenagers) overwhelmed the street.
The Inquirer reported on Monday that South Street business owners by and large thought the cops had done a good job â although the article dealt more with police on South Street in general than with the particulars of that night.
Since then, I've gotten a few tips from people saying otherwise.
Anthony K, who works at a South Street bar, told me this story of the Friday night prior to the street shutdown:
[Police] were banging on cars, pulling people out of cars. . . . There were taxis and stuff still coming down South Street and cops were banging on the hoods of cars . . .
[The police] are normally pretty chill. It's like they had brought in the infantry, so to speak. It might have been a little busier than usual, because it was a Friday, but it just seemed like a typical weekend on South Street â certainly nothing out of the ordinary.
It was a bit after last call, it was maybe 2:20, I was still stacking up chair, I happen to see some kid fly the entire length of the French doors, just from one end to the other. I went up to the window and I saw some kid â I didn't see how escalated, but some kid just got beat up by four or five cops, he was flailing in self-defense. . . .
They literally got him between two cars and were beating on the kids â the kid wasn't even fighting, he was just flailing his arms, with five guys beating on him â then the one dude just pulled it off his belt and zapped him . . .I've never seen anything like that. They tased him, he lay there a bit, it was pretty disgusting to see â they let him lie there for a while, his girlfriend was screaming.
Susanna Martin wrote a letter to the Inquirer, and sent me the unabridged version:
I was walking down South Street a little after midnight Saturday night with a friend, and there were a lot of young people of African descent around, as usual on South St. on a Saturday night. In Monday's article, "Crowds put at 20,000 force police to close parts of South Street," a police spokesperson says that the only problems were minor, such as underage drinking and "disorderly conduct," which can apply to almost anything. The only violence I saw that night was the draconian police evacuation of South Street. They cleared the street and the sidewalks using a row of horses, including two cops on horses on each sidewalk, yelling at the young people to go up to Broad Street and shoving them along. Then at least 5 rows of cops on motorcycles cleared the street, which was extremely alarming.
I think I saw one kid get beat up by the cops and arrested, but it was unclear what was happening. It was down the block, and I was trying to get away from the cops on horses. Police on foot were chasing individual young people with nightsticks if they tried to walk down a side street away from South Street where they were being corralled. I yelled that the young people weren't doing anything wrong. I think because I'm a white woman in my late 30s, I was not arrested for yelling at the police. Everyone else was just trying to get away, very calmly I thought, as they were being chased very rudely down the public sidewalks and herded onto Broad Street.
Philebrity had an interesting take on the whole thing, too:
What kind of crazy temperature is the City running these days that this kind of buildup and conflict occurs when nothing is happening at all? And then that, of course, threw us back to something we were saying during the whole flash mob craze: Could so much of this be happening because these kids feel like Center City is somehow not for them, and that the only way they believe they can experience it is like this, en masse in a borderline riot state? And when did it become the police's job to scrub Center City of black youth on the weekends? We know they're there to protect and serve, of course, but on the news the next night, when we saw the SEPTA busses that had been rolled in to take all of these kids back home, we got a very unpleasant feeling indeed.
I do not envy the Environmental Protection Administration right now.
In 2004, it conducted a study into Marcellus Shale drilling, which concluded that the âEPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.â
That 2004 study was used to enact the so-called "Halliburton Loophole" which exempted Marcellus Shale drillers from complying with a slew of environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act.
What you may be thinking is: If drinking water is not contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, why would gas drillers need to be exempted from environmental regulations?
It's a good question. And a whistleblower came forward from the EPA to offer an answer: the study was âscientifically unsound.â
A subsequent study by ProPublica just to throw one example out there (because there are many) found more like 1,000 examples of groundwater contamination from Marcellus Gas wells instead of zero.
This spring, the EPA acknowledged or at least implied that they may have overlooked some stuff in 2004 study. And in response, officials within the EPA have scheduled a series of four public gatherings nationwide aimed at understanding public concerns over issues related to drilling for natural gas buried a mile into the earth.
Those four locations were: Fort Worth, Texas on July 8; Denver, Colo. on July 13, Bunghamton, N.Y. on Aug. 12; and last night at the Hilton Garden Inn, about 15 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Why 15 miles south of Pittsburgh? Because there's a major boom out here. Thousands of wells are being contracted in the more rural counties outside Allegheny County, and drilling leases have been signed not only within Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh sits), but actually within the City of Pittsburgh.
Which concerns some people. Ron Gulla is one of them.
Gulla sold pieces of his land to various drilling companies years ago. He pulled in some major cash as much as $20,000 per month in the early 1990s and then he got hit with reality: Not only was his drinking water turning into sludge, and not only was his house beginning to smell of kerosene and gasoline and other chemicals, but his take from the Marcellus Shale wells on his rural property was depreciating alarmingly year by year. Why? Because his neighbors were also selling their mineral rights and also smelling the unpleasant odors of commerce and also washing their faces at night with stinking watery mud seeping from their faucets. In short: The bubble had burst, and all that remained was severely unclean tap water and landowners who didn't really know what they had gotten themselves into.
You see where this is going? Stories like that have ended up in outlets like CNN, the New York Times, Reuters pretty much everywhere.
âEPA is developing a research study to examine the potential relationships between [hydraulic fracturing the process by which Marcellus Shale is extracted from the ground] and drinking water. A key goal of the EPA study is to generate data and information that can be used to assess risks and ultimately to inform decisions.â
Part of that approach involves what the EPA calls âstakeholder input.â Which is what last night's romp was all about.
Hundreds of people signed up some traveled from as far as Albany and Virginia to speak publicly at the meeting about any anxiety related to Marcellus Shale drilling.
A lot of these speeches were nearly identical, but each represented some very real concerns.
Jay McDowell, for example, is a landowner with property surrounded by Marcellus Shale wells. He says: âMany businesses have managed to abuse financial, environmental and economic conditions. Day by day, they empty their residual waste trucks into the creeks and streams surrounding my home. What they are drawing out of and putting into these waters is unknown to most. As an individual, if I were to do the same, I would no doubt be arrested and pulled away from my family.â
Another example concern came from Faith Bjalobok, a local university professor, who scolded the EPA for thinking of economic concerns above environmental ones.
âMy concern is the poisoning of our water and the lack of regulation,â she says. âNothing against our local officials, but they lack the knowledge base to make regulations [for Marcellus Shale drillers]. I am calling on the EPA to impose a moratorium until an objective scientific study not funded by the industry can be performed. âLater, she says: âPennsylvania has another very rich resource: our rural nature, our agriculture, and our farms. They stand to be endangered by fracking. The EPA was designed to protect the environment, not to create jobs.â
This went on and on. In total, 125 people spoke at the EPA meeting. Each had a two-minute time limit. And while most of the commentary came from folks who either lived on property that was negatively affected by Marcellus Shale drilling, or were concerned about how widespread drilling would harm the region's clean water sources, a few representatives from companies like Halliburton and the American Petroleum Institute came forward to offer their version of The Sentence,and to make points like this one, made in the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review yesterday:
â[An] industry-backed study shows that drilling for Marcellus shale natural gas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia could generate $1 billion a year in taxes and indirectly support 100,000 jobs during the next decade as investments filter through the local economy.â
But most of the folks last night didn't really want to hear that.
Ned Mulcahy, an attorney with Three Rivers Waterkeeper, helped to summarize the meeting and his hopes for the EPA study, which is set to conclude in 2012:
âThe EPA is on the cusp of losing all credibility as a regulatory agency,â he said. âAnd it has been put into a lot of minds that they are not to be trusted. But this is a chance they have to earn back some modicum of public trust. And I really do think they will do that.â
One problem, he said, is that the study is going to take two years. And so if the EPA really does have concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing and if they really do want to study how Marcellus Shale wells influence the environment shouldn't they put a moratorium on drilling until the study's complete?
Probably, but they won't. The Marcellus Shale play is a moving train.
âIf they want to clean house, they can,â he said. âThe EPA can make companies stop drilling if they want to.â But a more realistic expectation is that âthe study will produce data that would lead regulatory decisions to be done with water protection as an utmost concern, that it would require drillers to drill in areas that have been determined to be geologically isolated, and that drilling will generally be done in ways that won't amount to human health threats.â
âAnd that's about the best we can hope for,â he says.
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