Rick Gray could only kick the can so far down the road

We read in recent days that the City of Lancaster is entering into a Consent Decree with the Pennsylvania Environmental Agency that may cost the City from $100 million to $150 million.

Below is is what we had to say on the matter back in February, 2015.

Rick Gray’s EPA chickens are coming home to roost

February 26, 2015


According to Lancasteronline’s report “City worries EPA will mandate additional stormwater controls costing taxpayers $100-$400 million”:

“…since 1998, the city thought it had been making steady progress in correcting the overflows, certainly enough to keep EPA off its back.

“After all, it had spent some $150 million since 2006 in pumping station upgrades and other improvements. That includes about $4 million so far underwriting tree plantings, rain gardens and porous pavement as part of its lauded Green Infrastructure Plan.

“At the council meeting, the city announced it had rejected EPA’s request to sign a consent agreement that would put the city under federal court control for about 20 years.

“We were very disappointed. We felt we had come so far and accomplished so much and don’t feel like we deserve to be treated like this,” said Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s public works director, in an interview Wednesday.”

All of this is the result of Mayor Rick Gray and City Planner Randy Patterson attempt to tip toe around a major problem by offering the state EPA palliatives rather than seriously and legitimately coming up with long term plans for substantially improving sewer treatment.

To promote a story, NewsLanc’s publisher, Robert Field, was invited by Gray to a meeting with a staff member for a briefing on plans to introduce porous paving, roof gardens and possibly holding tanks to reduce the amount of storm water run office in an attempt to restrain sewer disposal station surcharging of raw sewer into the Conestoga River during storms.

Field, who has built fifteen residential communities in several states and having on occasions successfully dealt with the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, immediately pointed out that such efforts were largely futile and would not long satisfy EPA.

(Roof gardens aren’t very practical, porous paving soon clogs, and there would be no end of the number of retaining tanks to put a dent in the run off.)

Field volunteered to meet with Patterson or others and review the combined sanitary / storm water system to see if incremental improvements could be made through introduction of a separate sanitary or storm lines in one or more likely portions of the city. Although expensive, separating some of the lines was the type of substantive progress that EPA would require.

Field and Gray had known each other for a number of years and had worked together on facilitating the initial Lancaster syringe exchange. Field was a major contributor to Gray’s first mayoralty campaign. So Field was both surprised and taken aback when Patterson turned down such a meeting and Gray refused to intervene.

Why would Patterson and Gray rebuff a friendly offer of private advice from a highly experienced real estate developer? Why years later did they give Field the same cold shouder when he voluntarily sought to arrange for the then Brunswick Hotel and Annex to be part of a redevelopment of Lancaster Square East that would also include the Bulova building?

In both cases Gray and Patterson ran from free helpful expert advice. Through combined arrogance and ineptitude, at best, they lost valuable opportunities for the City.

And the citizenry will now have to bear the very heavy cost of their follies.