Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Riverfront Park: Good News, Bad News, and REALLY Bad News

Testing river water
It’s been a month since Public Works removed most of the vegetation from the riverbank at Riverfront Park. Yesterday I went there to help volunteers test our river water for pollutants and other water health factors. Remember, this river provides our drinking water.

The results:  Nitrate levels (caused by runoff that contains fertilizer) were slightly better than on Earth Day.  PH levels were a tad on the alkaline side but not far from optimum (changes in pH can promote the growth of nasty invasive vegetation in the river). The bad news is that phosphate levels were worse (caused by runoff containing waste—for instance, from the goose droppings along the bank, the many dogs people bring to the park to relieve themselves, and all the backyards uphill that contain dog poop, etc.)

If you read my first blog on the riverbank about 3 weeks ago, you’ll remember how important the riparian zone (riverbank) vegetation is for filtering pollutants like phosphates, to keep them out of our drinking water.

The good news is that some of the vegetation is beginning to grow back, especially where the blue sediment barrier is, because the barrier discourages people from stepping over it and trampling the plants. (The photo shows mainly broadleaf plantain—an introduced species that’s been in North America long enough to be considered native.) If left alone, the vegetation will come back on its own, though replacing some of the more recent invasive species with native shrubs and flowers is best.

However, where there’s no barrier, little growth is taking place and the soil is quickly eroding around the tree roots.

At the end of the parking lot, where the lot is closest to the water, erosion is happening so fast that no vegetation at all is visible and almost all the top soil is gone. What’s underneath is what looks like old construction fill—cement blocks, cement dust in the soil, etc. Nothing will grow there. Meanwhile, the river keeps getting closer to the asphalt.
Where the river is closest to the lot


When I tried to ask some of our council folks what the plans are for Riverfront Park, they directed me to the Norristown.org. It took me a while but I found the plan at this link.

What the plan shows is no riparian zone at all for the area in question (which goes against US, PA and Montgomery County guidelines/ regulations for riparian zones). The bank appears to be all paved (it's described as "stone protection/stone seating/bank fishing"), with large boulders along the water’s edge. Less trees than we have now. Nothing to filter pollution, nothing to prevent erosion from behind or during floods, nothing to help slow flood waters, no habitat for wildlife (which includes fish—who get much of their shelter and food from overhanging trees and nutrients that wash into the river from vegetation on land or from whatever lives in the muddy shallows (which will be covered with boulders)). The entire natural eco-system in this area would be completely destroyed. More pollution in the river, leading not only to more difficulty cleaning our drinking water, but to the growth of more invasive weeds in the river, preventing boating.

Do we prefer bottle caps instead of plants?
Even if all that wasn’t a problem, think about the added heat that less trees/vegetation and more stone would bring to the park. Honestly, there’s too much paving there on a hot summer day now as it is, let alone add more. We’re supposed to be a community that cares about the environment. Riverfront Park could be a natural area showcase for our town, a wonderful place to teach our kids the science of nature and ecology. And a great place to fish if we don’t mess with current fish habitats. And a cool, breezy place to picnic. And a healthy river for boating.

This plan is dated 2011. I don’t know of any environmental study done since then in relation to this plan. One council person said there were town halls about it last fall. I checked all the calendars, including Norristown.org and the Municipality’s Facebook events. Nope, no town halls about Riverfront Park at all.

Litter and trash in the park continues
Some of our council reps have spoken to me and seem open to discussing environmental concerns about Riverfront Park. From the rest of Municipal Hall, I’ve only heard repeated claims that Public Works “cleaned up” the riverfront last month. Apparently healthy vegetation is trash to them (while real trash is still left lying around).

Please contact your council person and ask that a healthy NATURAL environment be restored to the riverbank and incorporated into the Riverfront Park Plan, for the good of the whole community.





Friday, August 11, 2017

Talk to Council, Enjoy Music, and More

Council's at the Carver Center for their 2nd "Listening" Tour on Saturday. Rain is in the forecast anyway that day. A variety of music around town this week, all free: Irish, Italian, Caribbean and Elvis, or make your own at the Open Mic Party.

Friday, August 4, "Hero School" continues at Theatre Horizon, an interactive play for children and their parents. Performances at 5, 6:15, and 7:30 pm. Only 30 seats per performance. Hero School will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through August 27. This weekend's performances Saturday at 10 am, 11:15, 1:30 pm, 2:45. Sunday at 2 pm, 3:15, 5:30 and 6:45. Tickets at this link.  FREE tickets are available for Norristown families at this link.

Friday, 6-9 pm at Diva's Kitchen (9 W Main). Open Mic Party. $10 to enter, $25 to be a featured act. Call 610-202-5064 for information.

Next Saturday, Aug 12, Noon-2 pm at the Carver Center. 2nd of Council's Listening Tour meetings, this one on Code Enforcement. Bring a smartphone if you have one or a pen if you don't. They'll be asking the questions, not the other way around. And they probably won't give you much time to text or write your opinion on each aspect of codes, let alone give thoughtful answers. But hopefully, there will be time allotted to speak one-on-one with a council person or with someone from the codes department like they did last time.

Saturday, 7-11 pm, Five Saints Distilling (Main and Green). Pat's Run performs.

Sunday, about 1:30 pm in Savior Hall (410 E Airy), an indoor block party for the Italian Festival of La Madonna Del Soccorso de Sciacca presented by the MSS Club. Italian food, music.

Sunday, 7 pm at the Elmwood Park Bandshell, Summer Concert Series presents Mark Reno as Elvis. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Concession stand will be open.

Tuesday, 10 am at Riverfront Park, the Audubon Center will be testing Schuylkill River water as part of NASA's Globe Observer environmental program. Stop by and learn something.

Tuesday, 6:30 pm at Municipal Hall. Council workshop.

Thursday, 11 am-2:30 pm on East Main in front of the Courthouse. Norristown Farmers Market. Every Thursday through Oct 26. Variety of fruits and vegetables, farm fresh, plus a new vendor with baked goods (even gluten-free).

Thursday, 7 pm at the Elmwood Park Bandshell, Summer Concert Series presents another International Night: Jah People (Caribbean Music). Bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Concession stand will be open.

Thursday is the last day to RSVP for the Kids' Fair on August 24 at Elmwood Park Zoo, presented by Senator Daylin Leach and Suburban Community Hospital. Free admission, free food, free activities. Raffle prizes. RSVP to 610-768-4200 or kidsfair@pasenate.com with you name, address and number of children and adults attending. Limited to 1500 attendees.

Next Saturday, August 19, 10 am, Centre Theater's Kids' Movie presentation will be "Frozen."

Also next Saturday at 10 am at Coffee Talk, 507 W Marshall, Heather Lewis, the 2nd District Councilwomen will be on hand to speak with residents.

Also next Saturday, 7-8:30 pm at Montgomery Cemetery. The Historical Society of Montgomery County will be offering a twilight tour entitled "Symbols of the Cemetery." Discover the meaning of symbols on the tombstones and the history behind them. $15 per person includes the tour, refreshments and presentation. RSVP 610-272-0297 or contact@hsmcpa.org.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Hero School, Festa Italiana, Community Day and Lots of MUSIC

Superheros downtown this weekend, plus the Italian Fest and Community Day. Enjoy.

Friday, August 4, Hero School opens at Theatre Horizon, an interactive play for children and their parents. Performances at 5, 6:15, and 7:30 pm. Only 30 seats per performance. Hero School will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through August 27. This weekend's performances Saturday at 10 am, 11:15, 1:30 pm, 2:45. Sunday at 2 pm, 3:15, 5:30 and 6:45. Tickets at this link and FREE tickets are available for Norristown families at this link.


Friday, 5-11 pm in the lot behind the Holy Saviour Club, 436 E Main (park across the street in the church lot). The 3-day San Salvatore Festival begins. Italian pork, beef and sausage sandwiches, fried pizza, tomato pie, beer and birch beer on tap, music, games, rides. Saturday 4-11 pm, Sunday after last mass and procession ends (about 1 pm) until 9 pm.

Saturday, noon-4 pm at 340 E Oak Street. CADCOM's Community Day (raindate Aug 12). FREE food, drinks, snacks, music, activities, vendors and the Famous CADCOM Basketball Tourney. FREE for everyone. For info, contact Heather Lewis at 610-277-6363 x166 or email hlewis@cadcom.org.

Saturday, 6:30-9:30 pm at Diva's Kitchen, 9 W Main. Gospel Night. All You Can Eat Buffet. Music, Singing, Praying. $15.

Saturday, 7-11 pm, Five Saints Distilling (Main and Green). Jazz Night with Jazz 180.

Sunday, 2-5 pm at Elmwood Park Zoo. Free admission for Norristown residents with ID.

Sunday, 2:30 pm at the Centre Theatre. The Rachmaninoff Duo is back with Classical Music in the County Seat. (concert begins at 3 pm). FREE concert.

Sunday, 7 pm at the Elmwood Park Bandshell, Summer Concert Series presents The Winstons (Motown). Bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Concession stand will be open.

Monday, 7-8 pm at Friends Meeting House, Swede and Jacoby (parking lot on Jacoby). Presentation on cooperative homeownership by Cabini (cooperative housing would like an apartment building where, instead of a landlord, all residents would own a share of the property).

Tuesday, 7 pm at Municipal Hall. Planning Commission.

Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 pm at Norristown Library. My Life Montco meets, a group for youth between the ages of 13 and 23 who have had experiences with mental health, substance abuse, foster care and other challenges. No cost. Dinner is provided.

Thursday, 11 am-2:30 pm on East Main in front of the Courthouse. Norristown Farmers Market. Every Thursday through Oct 26. Variety of fruits and vegetables, farm fresh. Watermelons, cantaloupes and more this week.

Next Saturday, Aug 12, Noon-2 pm at the Carver Center. 2nd of Council's Listening Tour meetings, this one on Code Enforcement. Bring a smartphone if you have one or a pen if you don't. They'll be asking the questions, not the other way around. And they probably won't give you much time to think about your opinion on each aspect of codes. But hopefully, there will be time allotted to speak one-on-one with a council person or with someone from the codes department.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

In the past week, more days than not, my neighborhood has been filled with smoke, sometimes as early as 7 am in the morning.  I don’t mean the pleasant barbecue aromas from propane, or even small charcoal grills that we can expect this time of year.  I mean SMOKE, some of it so acrid, your eyes burn and you can’t help but cough.  I haven’t smelled anything so bad since Norristown outlawed the burning of trash and yard waste back when I was a kid.  Now people seem to be burning all sorts of stuff on their outdoor fires.

Not only that, but people are throwing wood into their propane grills. Well, everyone likes that nice smoky taste in their burgers, right? Except that when you do it too close to your house or your neighbors’ houses, it’s a serious fire and health hazard. We have laws against that in N-Town. And I guess it’s time for a refresher course on them.

Here’s information from The Norristown Fire Department’s site:

Municipal Ordinance 10-04 of 2010 adopted the 2009 edition of the International Fire Code.

--Can we burn rubbish, trash, grass, weeds or any other material that emits smoke directly into the air?

Section 307.1.1 of the 2009 International Fire Code prohibits the burning of these materials in which the smoke does not pass through a stack or chimney.

--Can we have a recreational outdoor fire where the material being burned is not contained in an incinerator, outdoor fire place, portable outdoor fireplace, and barbeque grill or barbeque pit?

Section 307.4.2 of the 2009 International Fire Code permits Recreational Fires as long they conform to the following regulations.

1. Fires shall not be conducted within 25 feet of a structure or combustible materials. (All of my neighbors who burn wood do so on or near their porches, within about 15 feet of their back doors and less than 25 feet from at least one neighbor.)

2. Fire must be 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height.

3. Portable outdoor fireplaces shall always be used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.


4. All types of burning must be constantly attended until the fire is extinguished. A fire extinguisher with a 4-A rating, dirt, sand, water barrel or garden hose shall also be available for immediate use.
(The only substance I’ve seen kept available for immediate use is beer.)

--Can I grill on my porch or balcony?

Section 308.1.4 of Municipal Ordinance 11-08 of 2011 prohibits the use of all charcoal burners and other open-flame cooking devices on combustible porches and balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction.
(The people in one of the row houses along our alley light up a large wood fire in a grill on their wooden deck, within 8 feet of their door and no more than 10 feet from neighbors’ houses on either side. They do this pretty much every clear night that the temperature is above freezing.)
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Obviously, not following these ordinances is a fire hazard (and really, do we need more tragic fires in our town)? But also, there’s bound to be residents in every neighborhood who shouldn’t be breathing in smoke—the elderly, people with medical conditions, young children and babies, pregnant women, etc.

So I’d like to ask the people of Norristown to think of your neighbors. Don’t burn trash or yard waste at all. Don’t burn wood close to your home or your neighbors’ houses, and never leave your grill open and smoking after you’re done cooking.

For the Municipality, can’t Codes or the Fire Department, or even the NPD, enforce these ordinances somehow? I realize most of the violations are on weekends, but what good are ordinances if the residents can’t rely on them to protect their safety?