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Derry Borough (PA) Council wants its public works crew to get out of the business of mowing private lawns. In hopes of coaxing owners of vacant or foreclosed properties to trim their grass, council Monday approved advertising amendments to a lawn maintenance ordinance that would enact stricter penalties and guidelines.

PA town eyes stricter grass guidelines

Derry Borough (PA) Council wants its public works crew to get out of the business of mowing private lawns.


In hopes of coaxing owners of vacant or foreclosed properties to trim their grass, council Monday approved advertising amendments to a lawn maintenance ordinance that would enact stricter penalties and guidelines.


If approved, the amendments would shorten the maximum height allowed for grass from 12 inches to 8 inches while doubling the fine for a violation from $300 to $600.


Council President Allen Skopp said borough workers currently are mowing more than 20 private lawns, in addition to the borough-owned acreage they tend, in order to prevent overgrowth from harboring vermin.


“We’re not a lawn mowing service,” he protested. “The guys have a lot more important things to do.”


In addition to tying up borough manpower, he said the unwanted chore is taking its toll on borough mowers. Councilman Barry Smith noted it may be time for the borough to invest in a new commercial mower.


Council member Kristine Melville suggested checking to see if juvenile offenders who are assigned community service could be obtained to take over mowing duties.


Also Monday, council members were crying foul over PennDOT’s recent seal coating operation in the borough, maintaining that the “tar and chips” state crews applied on Rt. 217 resulted in pounds of loose gravel strewn along the highway and into the storm sewer system.


Skopp said he fielded complaints from residents about dust kicked up during the work early last week. He said when a state contractor responded with a street sweeper to take care of the gravel, “They swept it into the sewers, and it ended up in a bigger mess.”


“There are probably 10 to 15 pounds of it in the drains,” he said of the gravel. “The sweeper just compounded it.”


Borough secretary Lori Latta said a spokesman indicated PennDOT is “going to come out and remove the debris.”


“Hopefully, they don’t wait six months to come back and fix it,” Skopp commented. He expressed concern that the stray gravel could cause flooding if it clogs storm drains the borough just separated from sanitary sewer lines in the borough’s Fourth Ward in order to ease the burden on its sewage treatment plant.


He suggested that vacuum equipment will be needed to remove the gravel.


Smith said the borough’s public works crew likely will have to spend more time using Derry’s own street sweeper to help clean up the gravel. “We’re probably going to triple the amount we’ll use it,” he said.


He noted the seal coating work was especially untimely because it covered over pavement markings that were in place for pending restoration of road cuts the borough made in Rt. 217 for the sewer separation project.


Borough engineer Ed Schmitt said that work was to proceed over several nights — between about 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., when truck traffic along the highway is at a minimum — and was expected to be completed today. He said PennDOT’s requirement that quick-setting concrete be used in the restoration drove up the cost for that portion of the sewer project to $125,000, after a $25,000 price break was negotiated with the contractor.


Still, Schmitt said, the overall project remains on target for coming in under budget. At Monday’s meeting, council approved the latest requisition for the project, in the amount of $93,330.59.


Schmitt acknowledged that seal coating is a common procedure PennDOT maintenance crews use to extend the life of a road base before more extensive resurfacing is required. But borough officials questioned why the state department didn’t take into account this week’s scheduled restoration of the Rt. 217 intersection at Chestnut Street before proceeding to apply tar and chip at the site.


Schmitt said PennDOT’s permits personnel were aware of the pending restoration work.


Councilman Eric Tepper added that borough crews “had to go do cleanup on manhole covers” following the seal coating. “We ought to send PennDOT a bill for what our people had to expend doing that.”


Skopp argued such a bill wouldn’t be honored, but he said the borough should ask local state legislators to intervene if PennDOT hasn’t cleared the gravel by the end of the week.


Council directed that letters be sent to independent contractors that haul mail to the Derry post office, cautioning the drivers that their heavy trucks are not permitted to travel along borough alleys posted with a weight limit of 10,000 pounds.


Skopp claimed five such trucks routinely leave the post office via a shortcut, traveling along an alley paralleling South Chestnut Street rather than using an approved truck route along main streets that diverts traffic around an extra block.


Mayor Susan Bortz reported 72 volunteers organized by the Derry Area Revitalization Corp. managed to clear away 177,600 pounds of trash and debris in a community cleanup project that involved 483 man-hours over the course of 11 weekends. The effort, coordinated with Westmoreland Cleanways, would have cost more than $7,000 if the volunteers had been paid, she said.


In addition to cleaning Derry’s downtown district, the group spruced up a 9-acre area along the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks that cut through the center of town.


Bortz said community planners are hoping to create a park in that area that could be linked to recreational facilities in Latrobe and Blairsville via a proposed trail that would follow the Norfolk Southern rail line. She said the planners are hoping to receive a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service to begin a trail study.


Latta reported that drop-off bins are available once more in the borough for recycling of approved paper products, through the Abitibi program. Cardboard is not accepted in the bins, which are located behind the Dollar General store.

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