Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 20, 2014 at 11:17 am •  Published: August 20, 2014
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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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FIX PENNSYLVANIA'S KILLER DAMS

... With more than 70 fatalities, Pennsylvania has suffered the highest number of dam drownings in the United States, according to data compiled by Brigham Young University.

One-third of the documented low-head dam fatalities in the United States have occurred in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Iowa, according Bruce Tschantz, a professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who maintains the safedam.com website.

Pennsylvania has many stream miles dotted with low-head dams, most built in the 1800s to power mills. According to a July presentation by Ben Lorson, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the state's inventory lists about 3,000 dams — but he noted that there are more that have not been logged.

Tschantz said dam danger can be deceptive because small changes in water flow can dramatically increase risk. One day, a swimmer might easily escape the downstream boil. The next day, after a rain (even far upstream), the same person could be trapped by the hydraulic jump and be unable to escape. The bubbles created by the water falling over the crest of the dam elevate the risk. The oxygen in the water reduces a person's buoyancy, so even wearing a life vest is no guarantee of escape. ...

According to Lorson, more than 230 dams have been removed in Pennsylvania since 1995. ... Lorson said Pennsylvania has been a national leader in removal of obsolete dams, spending about $4.5 million on such projects since 2011.

But removal efforts have been dammed up and slowed to a trickle since the peak year of 2007, when 32 were removed in the state. Since 2008, when the recession hit, removals have dropped from 30 that year to 10 in 2011. In 2012, 11 dams were removed, and 13 were breached in 2013. ...

What if there were a way to reduce the dangers of low-head dams without removing them and changing the landscape?

There is.

It's a method largely pioneered by Luther Aadland, a river ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota, which has suffered nearly as many low-head dam drownings as Pennsylvania.

Aadland and others have come up with a method of retrofitting low-head dams to eliminate the hydraulic vortex, and it's remarkably simple:

Rocks.

Stones.

Boulders half the size of Volkswagens that can be placed along the downstream face of the dam.

Aadland and others call the structures rock ramps or "rock arch rapids" because the result looks like natural rapids in a stream or river.

The rocks divert sideways the energy of the water falling over the dam crest, eliminating the hydraulic roller that traps and kills.

Arranging rocks downstream of the dam wall can allow fish to move upstream, creates useful fast-water habitat for fish and other creatures, creates an aesthetically pleasing "rapids" section of the creek and eliminates the undertow.

A similar remediation method involves building steps on the downstream sides of dam walls, allowing the hydraulic energy to dissipate gradually, absent a steep drop over the crest.

People will always find ways to drown, but rock ramps dramatically reduce that risk. ...

— York Daily Record

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PRESUMED INNOCENT

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2014, 1:08 AM

Untold numbers of Philadelphians have lost their homes through the city district attorney's hyper-aggressive, overreaching civil forfeiture program, which bypasses normal judicial procedures to mete out punishment before a person has been convicted of a crime.

Consider the Orwellian nightmare of Christos and Markela Sourovelis, whose 22-year-old son was charged in March with allegedly selling $40 worth of heroin outside their Somerton home. In May, police kicked the Sourovelises out of their house. After a week of couch surfing, they agreed to prosecutors' highly inappropriate demand that they boot their son out of the house in order for the rest of the family to move back in.

There was no proof that the Sourovelises had any knowledge of their son's alleged drug dealing, but they were punished nonetheless — forced to leave their home, and threatened with losing it, under the civil forfeiture law, which allows the government to confiscate property if prosecutors think it was "more likely than not" used in a crime.

The Sourovelises are rightly making a federal case out of this outrageous abuse. Attorneys from the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, who are representing the couple, have petitioned the court to make this a class action suit to help more victims.

The lawyers want the program abolished, arguing in part that if prosecutors want to separate drug dealers from the fruits of their predatory enterprises, which is the stated purpose of the civil forfeiture program, they should follow criminal forfeiture rules, which require adjudication before punishment.

District Attorney Seth Williams' office has used the civil forfeiture program like a piggybank to fund as much as 20 percent of its budget. In the last decade, Philadelphia has reaped $64 million in seized property — more than Brooklyn and Los Angeles combined, The Inquirer's Jeremy Roebuck reported. That money has helped pay the salaries of the prosecutors who run the civil forfeiture program, creating an obvious conflict of interest.

One deserving beneficiary of the program is the district attorney's Public Nuisance Task Force, which was created to shut down crack houses, brothels, and nuisance bars. That good work, which allows authorities to cite building code and other noncriminal violations to shut down troublesome enterprises, should continue.

It's up to the Legislature to change the law that is trampling on defendants' constitutional right to be presumed innocent before being tried. But Williams doesn't need legislative approval to stop forfeiture abuses. Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter and City Council can help the District Attorney's Office rely less on income from forfeitures to fight crime in Philadelphia by making sure that department is adequately funded.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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PROCEED WITH CAUTION WITH GAME LANDS FEE

If you don't have a hunting license, should you be able to use Pennsylvania's 308 game lands for free?

That's the question the Pennsylvania Game Commission is studying. There are good arguments to be made on both sides. The Game Commission should seize the opportunity for a middle-ground compromise.

In his Aug. 3 story, "Non-hunters' game lands use could come at price," Ron Leonardi reported that the Game Commission has researched whether a fee should be charged to people who use game lands for reasons other than hunting and trapping.

The Game Commission is seeking new sources of revenue, as it should when budgets are tight. But the Game Commission should not overstep its boundaries and penalize non-hunters with excessive fees when they use game lands for recreation.

Game lands are not funded with tax dollars. Rather, the Game Commission buys properties with revenues from hunting and trapping licenses, gas and oil leases and timber sales from the game lands, according to Bill Capouillez. He is the Game Commission's bureau director of wildlife habitat management.

Game lands are distinct from Pennsylvania's state parks, which are free to use. Yet the Game Commission should remember that much of the land it has acquired came from donations from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. "The conservancy supports that these (game) lands should be open to the public without charge," said Allison Schlesinger, director of communications for the conservancy, based in Pittsburgh.

If the conservancy properties were conveyed with the expectation that the land would remain open to the public, why breach that initial trust? And why weren't user fees discussed when donations began? It's hard to restrict access now that members of the public have become accustomed to using state game lands for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, snowmobiling, bird-watching, dog-walking and simply to explore nature or to seek peace and quiet.

But it's also a fact that hunters and trappers pay license fees to use state game lands. "Our intent has always been to look at the sportsmen and the hunting license fees because our sportsmen carry the bulk of the cost associated with the 1.5 million acres (in Pennsylvania), and they promote that hunting and trapping heritage," said Capouillez.