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Lower Makefield Misses RTK Date for Flood Victims

The Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed at its Sept. 6 meeting to preclude Joseph Kahn, the former Bucks County solicitor, from taking part or advising the lawyer handling the township’s right-to-know (RTK) requests.

The move came after resident Tim Daly pointed out that Kahn had been in charge of the cases against mothers Jamie Walker and Megan Brock. The women had filed right-to-know requests trying to find out why the county suddenly overrode COVID-19 guidance for schools that Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker had issued. Damsker supported less restrictive policies than those the former Gov. Tom Wolf administration advocated. Damsker was overruled by Bucks County officials who imposed stricter masking, lockdowns, and vaccinations.

The state Office of Open Records ordered the county to turn over those records to Brock and Walker. But the county, with Kahn as its solicitor, sued the women to prevent their access to the county commissioners’ emails.

Good government watchdog group Judicial Watch has now stepped in to assist Brock and Walker with the ongoing litigation.

Kahn, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, was in charge of the litigation for the county. He is now a partner with Curtain Heefner, the law firm addressing the Lower Makefield residents’ RTK requests after township solicitor David Truelove determined his firm had a conflict of interest.

Now, several residents have filed right-to-know requests with Lower Makefield to find out about earlier township decisions that may have precipitated the disastrous flooding that occurred on July 15 in the township’s Maplevale neighborhood.

Daly, who helped Brock and Walker with their RTKs and is now assisting the Maplevale residents, asked supervisors why Truelove and his firm, Hill Wallack, were not handling the RTKs.

“I don’t understand why he’s been benched,” said Daly, adding that it gave Curtain and Heeefner an “unbelievable gift.”

Truelove told him it was appropriate, and the lawyer working on the RTKs, Sarah Steers, has much experience as a former assistant city solicitor in Pittsburgh.

However, Steers asked for a 30-day extension on the township’s behalf, then did not produce the documents on time.

“The response is eerily similar to what Mr. Kahn did to Jamie Walker and Megan Brock, which is now an embroiled controversy here in our county, for which Judicial Watch has now picked up all seven lawsuits because of the misconduct of Joe Kahn,” said Daly.

Kahn “pulled a fast one on Miss Brock and Miss Walker by getting them to agree to a 30-day extension, just like Miss Steers tried to do to (Lower Makefield resident) Mr. (Robert) Abrams. As a result of that, they lost their right to appeal.”

“I don’t think you want to do this to the Maplevale people, that you make them wait another 60 days. I know Mr. Adams has the exact same problem,” he said.

“So, we have three RTKs, now with no responses. They’re five to eight days behind in violation of the RTK law, and when you don’t deliver on the 30th day after you get the extension, (the township doesn’t) have a legal right to ask for (another) extension,” said Daly.

In a letter to Abrams, Steers said the township would comply “on or before Sept. 5.” It did not.

“They (the township) have to go to the Open Records Office. They have to prove that they actually need more time. And then, they’ll be granted it,” said Daly.

“What Mr. Kahn did, they gave him the initial 30 days, he extended it out another 30, then denied. Denied everything. He knew that on day five. It was just a game,” said Daly.

“And then Mr. Kahn had a big loss on his hands because they resubmitted all seven of these RTKs, and I assisted them in their appeals, and I won all seven against Mr. Kahn,” Daly said.

Khan did not respond to requests for comment.

Township Manager David Kratzer said a few people are filing several RTKs a day, and it costs the township thousands in legal fees to comply with those requests.

Abrams told the board he received a reply referring to him as Adams, another resident involved in filing RTKs in response to the flooding.

Daly said in a letter to Kratzer, “You will also see a range of typos and errors in the responses where your staff placed incorrect names, email addresses, and home addresses. In short, errors in handling all over the place from the law firm to your staff.”

As of Sept. 8, the township, through Steers, had not turned the records over to the Maplevale residents, Daly said. So, the residents filed appeals.

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Maplevale Drive Neighbors Plan to Air Flooding Woes to Lower Makefield Supervisors

“It was lucky that we were away,” said April Bollwage-Cloer.

She, her husband, and their son were not home on July 15 when stormwater flooded the lower floor of their two-floor house on Maplevale Drive in Lower Makefield. Their property abuts the Delaware Canal, which runs from Bristol to Easton along the Delaware River.

She said a huge sinkhole swallowed her backyard and her neighbor’s, too.

Rushing flood water from that same storm claimed seven lives in Upper Makefield, including a two-year-old girl and her 9-month-old baby brother.

“We’ve been flooded before,” said Bollwage-Cloer. The last time was just two years ago. “I’m still paying off stuff from the last time.”

The house belonged to her grandmother, she said. When people ask her why they stay, she says, “Who would buy our house now, that’s flooded three times in 12 years?”

Maplevale Drive sinkhole

And their insurance company does not cover flood damage, she added.

“The insurance won’t cover anything,” she said.

She said they could see the land was eroding around a drainage pipe the township ran between her lot and her neighbor’s. They had complained to the township, she said.

“It wasn’t maintained,” she said.

“I worried about allowing my child out there,” she said. During the storm, “the pipe collapsed and broke open.”

As it was, her son’s playhouse and outdoor toys washed down the canal, along with their patio furniture and the neighbor’s shed. Somehow a Harley-Davidson that neighbor was restoring remained; a firefighter pulled it from the muck, she said.

The next day people came, scavengers walking around barriers the police had put up, and stole toys floating in the water.

“People were down there with nets, fishing toys out,” said Bollwage-Cloer. “I told them to put my son’s toys back.” Some did. Others kept them. “We still don’t know where his playhouse is.”

Some voyeurs came and climbed down the newly-carved ravine and took selfies, she said. But other “wonderful” people and churches reached out to help the family. Officials from the township, the county, their state representative, and senator all came by.

“Finally, people are listening.”

The township sent equipment to fill in the giant sinkhole in her backyard. People from the county said they had no idea there was a flooding problem.

“My grandfather’s (burial) flag fell in the mud, and a woman from the county took it to Veteran’s Affairs to get it cleaned,” she said.

Many homes in the Maplevale neighborhood, including those that had never flooded, were damaged this time—at least 30. Residents are banding together to press the township for action. Neighbors plan to attend the supervisors’ meeting Wednesday evening at 7:30.

“They’re going to see me every two weeks,” said Bollwage-Cloer. “Who is going to make sure this isn’t going to happen again?”

Township Manager David Katzer said the township was aware of erosion in the Maplevale neighborhood.

“We’re out doing repairs as we speak,” Katzer said. “We’re actively remedying the issue.” He attributed the damage to “the volume of rain that fell in a short period. There was a tremendous amount of overland flow. It was an unfortunate circumstance.”

For the longer term, he said the township is working with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (which owns the canal) to remedy the situation.

“The repair work is underway,” said Katzer. “Obviously, we feel for the folks, what they’ve experienced. We’re working as hard as possible to address those issues and doing everything in our power to expedite it.”

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