A Rochester Borough Council meeting scheduled for Monday night was cancelled after it failed to make quorum.
Only 3 of Rochester’s 8 council members showed for the public meeting, the first since Friday night’s chemical fire that forced the town’s residents to shelter in place for hours.
Although Council was unable to proceed with a formal meeting, President Ben Rader, along with members Howard Howe and Ron Becker, opted to hear comment from members of the public.
“We can hear anybody’s complaint,” Rader said. “But we can’t act on it because we have no quorum. We’ll hear you, and if you can come back maybe next month, at least we’ll have it down.”
Among the topics of discussion were the condition of borough roads, the maintenance of borough property, and the chemical fire.
Chuck Mignanelli complained that ordinances in the town are not being properly enforced, and said properties are being left in a state of disrepair that is attracting undesirable wildlife.
“We pay more taxes in this town than they do in Beaver. More than Beaver,” Mignanelli said.
“Where is this tax money going? … I am ashamed to tell people that I live in Rochester. Look at New Brighton. I went to Ellwood City, I could not believe the yards in Ellwood City. They’re landscaped, it’s beautiful. Why not here? Because it’s rental property? Why are they any different than me? Why can’t they maintain their property and why can’t the borough cite them for it. We should be the richest borough in Beaver County.”
Rader told Mignanelli that properties are regularly cited, but blamed the courts for being so readily willing to dismiss those citations if property maintenance is done prior to hearings.
“They are cited. They have an appearance before the magistrate and before you know it that grass is cut, the property is cleaned, and guess what? The magistrate drops the charges. But they let it go again and they get cited again, and it’s the same thing. It’s repetition over and over.”
But it was not just privately owned properties that drew the ire of those in attendance.
Linda McGaffic told Council the borough-owned Chewning Playground that sits behind her house is “a hazard” and “a mess” and hasn’t been maintained in years. She said officials told her the Borough only has one maintenance man on staff and he does not have the time to even cut the grass.
“This borders my property and I am tired of looking at it,” McGaffic said. “If you’re not going to maintain it, the kids don’t use it anymore, I’m willing to buy it.”
When the conversation turned to the chemical fire, several residents complained about the manner in which officials had communicated the emergency to the public.
“Is there like a 911 emergency thing? We didn’t get any call about the leak,” asked one resident.
“I have a landline, we didn’t get any calls … We did the next day but not that night. My mother-in-law lives across the street, she received nothing either … We didn’t get any until the next day, they started in the morning of the next day.”
Council informed her about the Beaver County SWIFT 911 alert system that residents of the county can sign up for to receive emergency notifications.
Another resident complained about a lack of specificity in the notices that did go out.
“The original call that I got didn’t say anything about shutting your windows, so I just left the windows open. Then my wife woke up about an hour later and was like, it really stinks in here, so I went and shut the windows … I had thought there was a gunman running loose, I had no idea.”
Rochester police acknowledged during the meeting there had been some “glitches” in how notifications went out, but said the handling of the incident went well.
Rader appeared to downplay the significance of the chemical fire and praised the work by first responders.
“That chlorine that was there, that was swimming pool grade chlorine. It’s tablets, it’s the same things that go in your pool to clean your swimming pool. You go swimming in it,” he said.
“There are different grades of chlorine … When people think chlorine they think, and I saw on my Facebook someone attacked me about it, they said, ‘ya that’s what they used in World War I to kill people.’ Ya, but that’s not the same stuff, this was little tablets. Like I said, you throw them in your pool, you drink it in your water.
“So if you had some sort of respiratory problems, COPD or anything like that, asthma, ya, if you breathe it in it’s going to irritate you. You’re going to feel it. I swear, I was down there for 3 or 4 hours and I felt it, but that’s just because of the exposure. A healthy, normal person, it’s not going to do anything unless you walk right there into the cloud that was down there, and we all saw that.
“Even now, people are saying, ‘oh ya, residual, what’s going to happen?’ Nothing, nothing. Saturday afternoon, late in the afternoon, was the most beautiful day I’ve seen around here in a long time.”
A resident then chimed in, “Ya, but the wind was blowing.”
Rader continued, “Here in Rochester we’re safe. They did do a great job, the police department did a great job, the fire department did a great job; all of the departments that responded and everybody did a fantastic job. It could have been 100 times worse. Thank goodness it wasn’t …
“I’m blaming DEP for this because they’re the ones who took over the site down there and they didn’t remove it properly … They dragged their feet and mixed a few things that shouldn’t have been mixed.”
Rader later ended the meeting by again apologizing to those in attendance for the lack of quorum.
“I am sorry we can’t act on anything. If you want to come around next month hopefully we will have enough people.”
Rochester Borough Council generally meets once per month.
BeaverCountian.com contributor Matthew LaComb contributed to this report