10 Mar 2017
See the Guest Opinion in today’s Bucks County Courier Times. Text below for those not able to access.
Rail trail mystery: Why were residents misled?
By KEN BOYLE 11 hrs ago 1
On Dec.14, 2016 I wrote a Guest Opinion expressing concern that the Northampton Township Supervisors and the Bucks County Planning Commission were not acting in citizens’ interest in answering questions from and for residents on the proposed conversion of the old Newtown-Fox Chase rail line into a pedestrian trail, the Newtown Rail Trail.
After getting more information, I now realize that I made a mistake regarding the county planning commission. They did respond professionally and we as residents should be proud.
After reading the Bucks County Commissioners’ Guest Opinion on Dec. 15, which insisted that the supervisors were intentionally misleading residents, and reviewing correspondences between the county and Northampton from September to December of last year obtained through a Right to Know request made to the county solicitor’s office, it is now clear that county planners responded appropriately.
On Dec.14, 2016, the Northampton supervisors voted 3-2 to block a feasibility study for the Newtown Rail Trail. Supervisors Frank O’Donnell, Larry Weinstein, and Eileen Silver voted No to this study, claiming that the county had not responded properly to their questions. Supervisors Kim Rose and Barry Moore voted Yes to get complete information for residents.
In review, the county began presenting nearly identical presentations on the rail-trail concept to Upper Southampton in May 2015, and then to Newtown Township, and Newtown Borough. These municipalities then approved resolutions to support the study.
At the first Northampton meeting last September, county planners presented their plan with the key point being that a technical study was needed to get details on costs, specifications, and safety, just like in the other municipalities. At the continued October supervisors meeting, no one was present from the county. Over the following months, the supervisors repeated that the county was expected but did not show up and did not answer questions properly.
From the right-to-know request, it is clear that emails sent from county Executive Director Lynn Bush to the supervisors via the township manager on Oct. 14 provided written answers to all residents’ questions from the September meeting and asked the township to make them available to residents. She also offered to provide more detail if requested by the township.
Why did the supervisors not allow the residents to have these answers? When Supervisor Weinstein and township Manager Pellegrino were specifically asked at the November supervisors meeting if they received answers from the county, they both stated No. Why?
Director Bush also wrote to the supervisors on Oct. 14 that she was unavailable for the October meeting but the county trail planner would attend the meeting if requested. She also stated that she spoke personally with Pellegrino specifically regarding attendance at the October meeting and he stated that no one from the county was needed. Yet t he supervisors continued to claim surprise that the county did not attend and remained silent when public comment severely criticized them for lack of response. Why?
Bush further wrote to the township on Nov.18 that she had not received any direct questions from any supervisors on trail issues since before the Sept. 15 meeting. For most of 2016 the supervisors claimed they had asked questions of the county commissioners and planners that were not answered, but the county commissioners stated and now the planning commission’s executive director confirms she never had an outstanding question.
To ensure clear communication, Director Bush sent another letter to the supervisors, including O’Donnell, Weinstein, and Silver on Dec.13. Attached again were answers to residents’ questions from September.
Chairman Weinstein did send 57 mostly irrelevant questions to Ms. Bush days before the vote on December 14th. For most of 2016 he had been complaining publicly that he had unanswered questions. If he really wanted to get information for residents, why did Chairman Weinstein wait until December? And why would he and supervisors O’Donnell and Silver vote No on getting residents additional answers through a study — at no cost to the township?
The Bucks County Planning Commission acted appropriately to provide information to Northampton regarding the proposed Newtown Rail Trail. Why Supervisors O’Donnell, Weinstein, and Silver claimed the county’s lack of response as their reason to vote No on the feasibility study remains a mystery.
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Ken Boyle, Lower Makefield, is chair of Bike Bucks County, a volunteer branch of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, an advocacy organization for the nine-county area.