Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How N-Town is Wasting Our Tax $ Now

At the end of last week, Norristown Municipality posted photos of Riverfront Park on their Facebook page with the caption, “Despite the gloomy weather, Norristown Public Works and Pennsylvania American Water are hard at work trimming trees and clearing out debris to give everyone a more beautiful view of Norristown's riverfront!” 48 people hit the Like or even the Love icon. What’s not to love, right?

Me? I thought “uh-oh” and went down to Riverfront this week to check it out.

What their photos didn’t show you was the mud they left behind. They essentially ripped out 90% or more of the vegetation along the riverbank—trees, undergrowth, you name it—and left mud and debris in their wake. Sure, everyone can see the river from any point in the parking lot now, but if you want shade for your picnic on these hot days, forget it. If you want to enjoy nature without looking at ugly mud and debris, you’ll have to head for Valley Forge.

Still, the inconvenience of picnickers is only a tiny part of the problem. The real disaster here is that most of the riparian buffer zone was destroyed. What’s a riparian buffer zone? It’s native vegetation that grows along a riverbank and has 4 important environmental functions:

1. Keeping the bank from eroding
2. Slowing flood waters
3. Absorbing pollution in stormwater runoff, to keep the river cleaner
4. Providing habitat (food and shelter) for fish and wildlife

If we get one or two heavy thunderstorms this week, some of that mud will disappear, right into the river. The next time we get a week of rain, a lot of what’s left of the riverbank could disappear. The dirt around the roots of the few trees they left will erode away and those trees will fall into the river. The riverbank will go bye-bye, then the parking lot will start to crack and wash away. I heard the PA American Water Company intends to plant grass seed. That won’t work. Residential grass doesn’t have roots deep enough or strong enough for a riverbank. 

A good strong flood could speed up the erosion process. Remember a few years ago, when a flood lifted the Dragon Boat’s trailer and washed it down to the Dekalb bridge? A flood like that now would do a lot more damage to Riverfront Park—destroy the parking lot, gouge out the hill behind it, even undermine the Schuylkill River Trail—because now we have very few trees and undergrowth to slow down flood waters. If Riverfront Park is inundated, the river could actually move inland permanently, then threaten Crawford Park and everything downstream.

Pollution? We already have elevated levels of nitrates in our river. We get our drinking water from there, folks. We ought to be trying to widen and strengthen the riparian buffer instead of destroying it.

A week and a half ago I went on the Audubon Center’s bird walk at Riverfront. We saw little birds in the trees all along the riverbank and heard frogs in the water. All those birds were gone yesterday, and I didn’t hear any frogs. If you’re one of the people who like to fish at Riverfront, the fish populations will probably decrease in the coming year because of lack of habitat.

I don’t know who at Municipal Hall had this brilliant idea to destroy an entire eco-system and put at risk one of our most unique parks, and the area all around it, and possibly even our water supply. The person ought to be fired.

A"before" picture of the riverbank
What will it take to fix the problem properly? Honestly, I’m not sure it CAN be fixed. An eco-system is a complex thing that takes decades, at least, to evolve. Planting native plants all along the bank would help. Widening the riparian zone would help, even if it’s only by 10 or 15 feet. Things that won’t help: grass or more concrete or asphalt. Whatever the solution, it’ll cost more tax money. Something they wouldn’t need to spend if they’d left well enough alone.

But frankly, I can’t see anyone at Municipal Hall publicly acknowledging their mistake. Or understanding that they made one in the first place.

Ironically, the Municipality just changed their Facebook cover to a pre-disaster area photo of Riverfront Park.

You can read more about riparian buffer zones on a PDF at the USDA's website at this link.


  1. According to the Facebook posting, they say there were Town House meetings held sometime last Fall regarding accessibility at Riverfront Park. I'd like to see if there were minutes or summaries taken from those meetings that stated such a claim. Also, I don't seem to recall any announcement of these meetings that were supposed to have taken place at around this time.

  2. No, Jefferson, I don't remember seeing anything about those meetings either. They were never posted on the town calendar or I would have posted them on my Friday blog. They weren't listed as Facebook events. The only Town Hall advertised was a Public Works meeting on Oct 13 and that was about the new snow removal policy. NOTHING about Riverfront Park.