Hempfield public works director faulted for damaging wetlands
An internal investigation into who was responsible for damaging protected wetlands in a Hempfield park has exonerated a township supervisor and blames the public works director, according to a report.
Township attorney Les Mlakar said the work in Hempfield Park, ordered by Public Works Director Mike Volpe, was unintentional and resulted from confusion over whether Volpe needed a permit to perform work within a certain distance from the wetlands.
Volpe said he could not comment on the findings until he reads the report.
Mlakar concedes the township violated state environmental laws by excavating without obtaining a state permit.
While dredging a stream running through the park, workers deposited debris from the stream into nearby wetlands that are a habitat for plant and aquatic life, including turtles, minnows, fish and frogs. The vegetation includes cattails, wool grass, milkweed, a variety of rushes and rod osier dogwood, according to an engineering report.
Mlakar said it was the township's intention to construct a pond only to unclog drainage pipes that were causing flooding.
The investigation exonerates Supervisor Jerry Fagert from blame for the damage, Mlakar said.
At one point Fagert was interested in building a fishing area at the park, Mlakar said. After reviewing permit requirements and an opinion from the township engineer, Fagert decided to abandon plans for the pond because it “would not be economically feasible.”
“Neither Fagert nor Volpe were attempting to create an area in which a pond could be constructed,” Mlakar said.
Township employee Joe Svetkovich said he excavated the stream but was not questioned by anyone from the Westmoreland Conservation District or the state Department of Environmental Protection as to what he was ordered to do.
“I never was questioned at all,” he said. He declined further comment.
A violation notice issued by the DEP in May found that some excavated debris from the stream was used to “fill and relocate portions of two stream channels in order to redirect flow (of water) out of the wetlands and into the unnamed tributary of Brush Creek.”
Mlakar said Fagert had “no knowledge of the work” until he was notified later. He said Volpe misunderstood the “Fifty Foot Rule,” which requires a permit for any work done within 50 feet of a bridge or culvert or for a distance of 50 feet. Compounding the problem was Volpe's reliance on an inaccurate township drawing of the park, Mlakar said.
“Mr. Volpe indicated to us that he did not believe he was encroaching into any wetland areas,” he said. Hempfield excavated 200 feet of the unnamed tributary of Brush Creek and widened the channel to 10 feet, according to a violation notice issued by the Westmoreland Conservation District.
The dirt removed from the stream was dumped into the wetlands, creating a mound 200 feet long and 10 feet wide.
The state has ordered the township to fix the damage. Supervisors budgeted $150,000 next year to do the work and pay a possible state fine.
John Poister, a spokesman for the DEP in Pittsburgh, said the agency's investigation will not determine who is to blame for the violations.
“Our investigation focuses on the fact there was unauthorized work done that affected wetlands and was done without a permit,” he said.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Man takes rifle from Jeannette police car
- Pollution may be cause of sky’s colored streaks in Westmoreland
- Identities of theft suspects sought by Penn Township and state police
- Grant program targets 7 Westmoreland County towns, including Greensburg, for revitalization
- Girl, 8, hit by truck in North Irwin, breaks leg
- 1 injured in Mt. Pleasant Twp. accident
- Westmoreland judge: Contact with advocacy group won’t hamper fairness in drug trial
- Latrobe-Unity parks department seeks grant; revamp to cost $112K
- Mt. Pleasant Scout creates drop box for flag disposal
- Contract talks to start this week for prison union in Westmoreland
- 40-year-old Latrobe woman used boy, 13, for sex, drugs, police say