By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor
SACRAMENTO – Hubley Township Board of Supervisors have hired the law firm of Rhoads and Sinon LLP, Harrisburg, to represent the township in the appeal of the Hegins and Hubley Twp. Joint Act 537 sewer plan.
The motion was made during a township meeting held Monday at 5 p.m. Supervisors Robert Barr, Frank Krammes and Keith Masser were all in agreement to hire the firm.
On Friday, March 25, John G. Dean of Elliott Greenleaf, P.C. Scranton, counsel for Hegins Township filed a motion objecting to Attorney Paul Datte, representing Hubley Township, on the grounds of conflict of interest in regards to the appeal of the Act 537 plan filed by Concerned Citizens: Roger Wetzel, William Wolfgang, Kenneth Richter, Kenneth Graham and Harry Mausser.
Attorney Datte attended Monday’s meeting and said he wanted to make it clear that there were no allegations or specific wrongdoings and no secrets exchanged. Datte said it is what it is and he requested the township to retain new and different counsel.
A notice of appearance to substitute counsel was filed with the environmental hearing board April 5. The notice entered the appearance of Paul J. Bruder, Jr., esquire, Timothy J. Neiman, esquire and Rhoads & Sinon LLP and withdrew the appearance of Paul J. Datte, esquire and Cerullo, Datte & Burke, P.C. on behalf of Hubley Township.
The hourly rate for Hubley Township’s new attorney will be $375 for all partners and $250 for all associates and standard rates for all law clerks, legal assistants and paralegals.
Supervisor Chairman Masser offered the following statement:
“No one is happy about the cost of public sewage service but it is a necessary cost that we must all bare. This litigation and the actions of a few citizens of Hegins Twp. has just made it more expensive for all of us.
How silly and wasteful this has become is evidenced by the fact that Hegins Township now appears to be challenging the very plan that it sponsored and submitted to DEP.
Hubley Twp. and Hegins Twp. have spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours addressing the Act 537 plan.
The plan was submitted to DEP on two separate occasions attempting to address both townships’ needs and costs.
The inclusion and deletion of outlying areas in both townships was debated at length and reviewed extensively by DEP.
The final joint plan took into account the substantial additional grants and financial concessions that would be available if the outlying areas were included. We believe that the removal of any of those outlying areas will substantially diminish the financial aid that will be available for the project and will result in significant additional costs for all members of our community both in the form of higher rates for the persons served by the proposed sewer and in the form of higher taxes to pay for the wasteful litigation before the Environmental Hearing Board.
As a result of the actions of a few citizens in Hegins Twp. there are now substantial additional costs that will be incurred by both townships.
Hegins Twp. has retained new and different counsel and has participated in several conferences with the judge hearing the challenge raised by a few citizens and made no objection to Attorney Datte representing Hubley Twp., however at literally the 11th hour and on the eve of having to submit final positions to the Environmental Hearing Board Hegins Township Counsel for Hegins Twp. has objected to Attorney Datte being involved in the matter claiming there is a conflict. This objection was raised at the last possible moment even though all of the evidence that will be presented at the hearing is already a public record. We believe that there is no true conflict on the part of Attorney Datte however the township, at Mr. Datte’s request, has retained new and different counsel which will result in significant additional costs and expense for the citizens of Hubley Township.
This project will be a major expense for both townships but the law dictates that both townships have an Act 537 plan. The plan is probably not perfect but it is a good plan and it will eventually be implemented. It is unfortunate that the position taken by a few will result in major expense for all the rest of the citizens of both townships. It is even more unsettling that the continuous delay in implementing the plan has and will cause a deterioration in the real-estate market in both townships and will delay development in both townships. The delay in the Act 537 plan implementation is and will have a direct impact on the ability of hundreds of residents to sell their homes and to build new homes. In a nut shell it has brought growth and prosperity of our small community to a grinding halt.”
Masser apologized to Datte, saying he was sorry that he had to get caught up in this situation.
“I view this as one more tactic to delay the project,” said Masser. “It was one more strategy to stall.”
Dale Bixler, a resident of Hubley Township attended the meeting to ask the supervisors a question.
“Can we afford to fight with Hegins Township?,” asked Bixler. “Maybe it would be better to get along with them then to fight with them.”
In response to his question, Masser said, “Can we afford to defend the plan? Absolutely. Will taxes go up because of fighting the appeal, look to the concerned citizens of Hegins Township, they will be the ones to point your finger at for raised taxes.”
Masser also noted that the Hegins and Hubley Townships do work together, as a matter of fact they are partnering with Hegins and Barry Townships on a road project in order for all townships to save on the cost of materials.
In other business, Jeannette Greenhaus questioned the supervisors on the placement of public comment. She didn’t understand why public comment is at the beginning of the agenda instead of at the end. The supervisors and Township Solicitor James Diehl tried to explain how public comment works.
“It’s placed at the beginning so you have the opportunity to make public comment on anything listed on the agenda before it is voted on,” said Masser.
“How would I know if I wanted to comment on it,?” asked Greenhaus.
“Because it is listed on the agenda,” said Masser. “Each topic is listed and that is your opportunity to offer any information or concerns that you have with that particular item.”
Greenhaus said she believes public comment should be at the end of the agenda.
Masser explained that at that point all the issues would have already been voted on and no opportunity would have been available for public comment.
Diehl said if there was something she would like to comment on they were willing to bring it back to the table and open it up for discussion.
Greenhaus said she didn’t have any comments at that time but that she just doesn’t get public comment.
Diehl also suggested that the township can place public comment at the beginning and at the end if that makes it more friendly for her.