Nagging dispute over a small Delco dam

Posted: July 25, 2014

Weeds grow through chain-link fences and cracks in the pavement in a corner of Media Borough. A sign trumpeting coming repairs to Third Street and a dam in the stream below it promises in faded letters that "construction is slated for 200" - with the fourth numeral, indicating a year, scratched out.

The quiet area appears neglected. But a dispute over its future has made it the focus of local politics and litigation for 18 years.

It's a small fight over a small dam that, for once, isn't about money. It's also a look at how a small problem can become seemingly insurmountable when it involves property deeds and more than one government entity.

Built in the late 19th century to create a small lake for ice harvesting, the short stretch of Third Street that runs over the dam was deemed unsafe and closed in 1996. Since then, it has been left in a state of disrepair amid an argument over who would rebuild it - and then over how it should be rebuilt.

"No one wants to own a dam," said Media Borough Council President Brian Hall, "because dams are expensive to repair, to replace, to maintain."

Without repairs to the dam, the road over it has remained closed, leaving vehicles to detour around the portion of Third Street that connects Media, the Delaware County seat, to Upper Providence Township.

The dam sits between the county-owned Glen Providence Park and Broomall's Lake Country Club, but the borough has cared for the road. So its fate became the subject of a dispute among the county, the borough, and the club.

In 2000, four years after the road closed, state lawmakers approved financing for 80 percent of the roughly $3.2 million project. The borough received another state grant for the project, and money committed by the county is sitting in an account awaiting the start of construction.

An agreement signed by all three parties in 2011 did not designate a single dam owner. Instead, they agreed that the borough would complete construction and care for the road, while the county and the club would share future maintenance costs for the dam itself.

But three years after that agreement, construction has not begun.

As the borough council began planning the new dam, it held public meetings and gathered input on a design. Some wanted a two-lane road over the dam, just as there had been before 1996. Others, including a residents' group called Friends of Glen Providence Park, advocated for a pedestrian-only walkway instead of a road and for removal of the dam.

The borough council reached a decision in 2012, voting to build a one-lane road over the dam.

That design would have had less of an impact on the neighboring Glen Providence Park and included a section for pedestrians and cyclists, said Borough Councilman Kent Davidson, whose home overlooks the dam.

The club and county took the dispute back to court, arguing that the road had always been two lanes. A judge agreed, ruling in June that the borough was not following the agreement.

Two-way traffic is important for access to Broomall's Lake Country Club, and the threat of noisy and unsightly construction has hurt its wedding and event business, said Paul Cavanagh, who sits on the club's board of directors.

The saga could soon come to an end.

A Delaware County Court judge ruled last month that the borough could not build a one-lane roadway over the dam that it had planned, because that design violated the 2011 agreement.

"The funds have been set aside, the engineering reports have been done, but for some reason, this roadway has not been opened," Cavanagh said. "And it just all seems to me to be political."

As the dispute continues, some residents are ready for it to end.

"I almost want it to open," said Edward Bailey, who lives in the house closest to the dam. But, he added, putting up with the noise of construction - even though that could still be a year off - will be unpleasant. "I think at this point, it doesn't really matter to me."

The council could still appeal the latest ruling in County Court before the end of the month, but attorneys on the other side said they hoped the case would finally be over.

"It's been a long road," said Gene Bonner, an attorney for Broomall's Lake Country Club.

Hall, the borough council president, declined to say whether there would be an appeal. But he said he was also looking forward to reaching a conclusion.

"My wife would tell you that, for quite some time, it has often been the chief topic of conversation at the dinner table," he said, "and not because there were always willing participants."

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal

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