There were aspects of the Martin Tower demolition that were contentious.
Gadfly’s pee was warm over lack of direct attention by the City to long-term health effects from the “dust.”
A follower said Gadfly sounded “agitated” and “furious” at the Nitschmann night meeting. (You can play the tape.)
But one thing Gadfly readily acknowledged at that meeting as did everyone else before, during, and since the demolition was the absolutely outstanding work done by Robert Novatnack, Bethlehem’s Emergency Services Coordinator, who led the project from the City side. Mr. Novatnack was given an award by the County and at the May 22 City Council meeting received a particularly eloquent citation from the City (kudos to the author!). You can listen to that well-deserved citation on the City video beginning at min. 59:30. It is really excellent.
Everybody please take a moment and nod thanks in the direction of City Hall to Mr. Novatnack for a job selflessly and tirelessly well done. There is something in his very gentle and genial voice that gives you confidence that all is under control.
But Gadfly would like to call attention here to the interchange between Councilwoman Van Wirt and Councilman Callahan that framed Mr. Novatnack’s presentation and, rather awkwardly in Gadfly’s mind, temporarily halted the presentation of the citation.
Gadfly has said before that the dynamic between these two councilpersons is worth paying attention to.
PVW made three points:
1) the air sampling results should be posted online for citizens to look at
2) she was quite sure (personal inspection) that there was cement debris swept down into the Monocacy and we must do better in the future protecting our natural resource
3) speaking as a physician and explicitly answering an argument made by the demolitioners about the safety of the “dust,” she observed that “imploded cement particulate from cured concrete . . . is incredibly different from what is spewed out from our cement plants [like Casilio].”
PVW’s tone – to Gadfly’s ear, and you can judge for yourself – was firm but fair.
She certainly was not accusatory toward Mr. Novatnack:
“I do think that you handled a difficult situation . . . with grace and patience, and I thank you for the good job you did with that.”
“Mr. Novatnack has been very responsive all the time to all of my concerns.”
“This is not on you, Mr. Novatnack . . . this is not you doing it better, but I think we as a community . . .”
“I really do admire how you’ve handled all this, handled all my concerns . . . Thank you for your patience with me particularly and helping the citizens understand what was happening.”
“You are very responsive, attentive, and patient.”
“Thank you again for your good work.”
Councilman Callahan, admitting to an “angst in [his] tone right now,” then temporarily halted the reading of the citation for the purpose of 1) questioning PVW’s “awareness” ( a term used three times) of certain facts since she is only a recent resident of the City and 2) decrying her lack of questioning before “stoking fear” (a phrase used three times) among the residents – a behavior irresponsible by public officials.
A point of order halted BC’s train of thought.
Gadfly felt BC was out of order. Gadfly was very troubled by BC’s response to PVW. He found it both condescending and erroneous.
To Gadfly, PVW’s comments made perfectly clear that she knew about Casilio and that she was probably making a pest of herself asking questions.
To Gadfly, “stoking fear” might be thought of as insulting. PVW is a physician, and she made a comment about the particulates and public health danger in her professional capacity.
BC’s point of PVW’s short 4-year residence in the City as implying lack of standing in the Martin Tower discussion reminded Gadfly of BC last year claiming higher authority to speak about the Southside since he has lived in Bethlehem longer that Councilwoman Negron.
PVW sounded like a responsible public official to Gadfly.
One of the goals of the Gadfly project is to help us know our Councilpersons better, especially when it comes time to vote. Council meetings are now on video, so residents can judge for themselves.
But Gadfly thought he would italicize this interchange, as it were, as another one especially illustrative of the nature and temperament of these two Councilpeople (see post #60), who literally sit at opposite poles of the Head Table.
Though Martin Tower is now an imploded heap of rubble and thus “old news,” Gadfly hastens to archive follower Al Wurth’s perspective so that it will be available to historians of this moment in Bethlehem history.
Wurth’s moving comments at the Nitschmann public meeting (where he was rudely interrupted from the head table) got the most vigorous applause of the night.
Here’s Wurth’s excellent essay, a version of which appeared as an op-ed just before the demolition.
What is the advantage to the community of “imploding” Martin Tower?
In a few days, on Sunday May 19, Bethlehem residents will have a surprise on our way to church. The spectacle is the announced “implosion” of the iconic Martin Tower, the former headquarters of the steel company known round the world by the name of its birthplace — Bethlehem. However, it won’t be terrorists who have carried out the assault but rather our local officials and people we call “developers” who have led us to do it to ourselves.
The building will fall on itself after being broken apart with explosive charges and will release a cloud of dust that will spread over the city (and Nitschmann school across the road), and travel for miles in an ever-larger pattern to the Southeast, if prevailing winds are in place—aimed initially toward the most densely populated parts of town – the near West Side, downtown, the historic districts and the South Side—and toward South Mountain, which will likely contain even more of the dust in city.
Actually, we did not vote for any plan to destroy the Martin Tower; it was not a decision made by the people. It would never have been supported by a referendum, but we never had a vote. It was instead enabled, ambiguously, in a 6-1 rezoning vote (promoted by Mayor Donchez), by city council in December 2015, that effectively removed protection of Martin Tower as a historic structure. Only three of the members of City Council who approved that rezoning remain on council, Councilors Callahan, Reynolds, and Waldron; the lone dissenter, Kathy Reuscher, and the others, including City Business Manager Eric Evans, are no longer on council.
The insensitivity of the city leaders to the history and the uniqueness of the structure should not be surprising. Abandonment and destruction of old structures in “historic” Bethlehem has lately been common. Indeed, good advice for preserving property would be: Don’t get on the National Register of Historic Places—like the old Broughal School, or even be designated historic, like the 2nd Avenue Armory, because you end up in the cross-hairs of the absentee out-of-town speculators that call themselves developers.
So, three years later, it should be no surprise that the unique and historic structure, the tallest building in the Lehigh Valley, would be scheduled for demolition by “implosion” at the same time that cities around the world are seeing a boom in distinctive tall structures. I recently visited Durham NC, where one was just completed, and condominiums on the upper floors are listed at $1 million. Rather than take advantage of the unparalleled views (much better than Durham’s) from our own tallest building (that used to be reserved for the steel execs), our leaders’ choice apparently has been to destroy both the uniqueness and the historical character of Martin Tower in favor of suburban-style “generica” developments made up of low-rise structures on acres of parking lots—mirroring the shopping centers across the street.
Bethlehem doesn’t have to settle for this plan, and certainly citizens should not face the risks of the “implosion demolition.” The original rationale for demolition, that the Tower was too plagued by old construction materials like asbestos, no longer applies. Fortunately, the negative characteristics of the old building have been removed by the developer; only the historic significance and the unique character of the building remain. With its costly and dangerous asbestos removed, it is what Bethlehem Steel made it to be—the skyscraper company’s skyscraper—a hometown tribute to the builder of world-class bridges and buildings.
Instead of completing the destruction, why not retrofit the remaining steel structure with new cover skin with solar panels, add state of the art efficiency, insulation, and daylighting, and other modern technologies, and remodel the old monument in a 21st century form? The solar exposure (for PV panels and daylighting) is unmatched as the building is not shaded from any direction—another distinctive characteristic of its monumental status.
The mayor and council and other state and local officials (who have been conspicuously silent) can work together to find a better and much safer plan. Place a moratorium on any demolition to get clear comparisons of cost and risk of the slow but steady (job creating) piece-by-piece demolition alternative, compared to the quick and dirty implosion. These estimates have not been provided to the public. Meanwhile, seek initiatives from other builders who could contract with the current owners for the structure’s skeleton and shell to be turned into multi-use and multi-level residential, and commercial area, like so many similar developments in other communities.
The complaints from the absentee owners about how long it will take can hardly be considered serious given the years of inactivity that the location has endured. The owners will still have their special tax breaks from the CRIZ–that they can apply to the project and the surrounding property. Make no mistake, citizens are paying for the destruction of Martin Tower not just in the destructive pollution and loss of our history; our leaders are actually giving special tax breaks to the wreckers.
The old obstacles to reuse have been removed; why destroy the core and its historic and structural integrity—and make citizens hide from the pollution? How many communities would deliberately destroy their historic tallest building? Bethlehem officials, and the developers, can do better.
Op Ed submitted by Prof. Al Wurth, Bethlehem resident and (imperiled) neighbor of Martin.
Bob Bilheimer is General Manager of the Industrial Archives & Library here in Bethlehem and was the General Manager of Public Affairs at Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where he was responsible for corporate communications.
Bob prepared these press releases on Ed Martin for publication before the demolition.
Gadfly got behind in his journalistic endeavors, however, and apologizes to Bob for not posting them at a more timely moment.
Nalyn Marcus has had a business across the street from Martin Tower since 2007.
There is a lot of voiced concern, information and commentary on this site which I was only made aware of two weeks ago. Insightful info and thought provoking questions to raise awareness on many topics, but for me these weeks, I’m laser focused on the Tower and all it implies. I often wonder why the local media has not found it newsworthy to dig or write more on health concerns as part of their implosion coverage. It has seemed merely a brush stroke of coverage. I mentioned my concerns weeks ago to a reporter who said that the air quality was an ‘interesting angle’ that he might follow up on. Then nothing. Why I wonder. And how far of a reach does this site have? Is it monitored by our Lehigh Valley journalists or are we all preaching to our own choir?
So I’m using my painters tape and old sheets, taking photos and removing delicate glass and wall hangings tomorrow. I am grateful Im getting help and now that thunderstorms are forecast that is the blessing too. I’m doing more than has been suggested to get ready, but that’s me. I prefer to be over prepared, rather than lament ‘I shoulda’ after. Thank you for this site Gadfly. I believe we’re all better educated having this excellent source of info you provide.
Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.
The real takeaway from this entire process is that City officials:
• accepted the contractor as a valid source of information on risks
• excluded the city’s Health Department from the process
• assumed that DEP regulations protect public health (what the regulations actually do is permit harm as long as the applicant meets certain requirements)
Clearly they are willing to allow this to go ahead despite demonstrated public health impacts.
This is what happens when government officials place a higher value on property (& profits) than on people’s health & lives.
I think this [post#62 on silica] supports the fact that any comparison to Casilio is bogus, another false statement from the demolition company.