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Commissioners discuss Station 40 closure

The Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners met virtually Jan. 11, the session opening with public comments regarding the recent shutdown of the Cementon fire station, 5120 Third St.

The decision to close the station, No. 40, was announced Dec. 18, 2020.

Whitehall resident LoriAnn Fehnel suggested to the board several reasons why Station 40 should have remained open, placing emphasis on the nearby pedestrian and biking trail and Lehigh River, which she said are used by thousands of people.

Fehnel gave support for Fire Chief David Nelson but ultimately spoke out “to be a voice” for the station. She said the township should have been more professional about the closure’s announcement, alleging the closure was not previously mentioned to the station’s firefighters.

Township Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. said he and Nelson were put into a tight position when firefighters of Station 40 indicated they were going to leave - placing the township at risk for liability, as the station would be operating with a dwindling staff.

“I’ll live with the accusation that I did not reach out to them before talking to the public,” Harakal said. “But I stand by my decision and I’ll live with it. My apologies to the men and women at 40, but I think I did the right thing.”

Board President Philip Ginder added, “[Harakal] was put in a corner.”

Although Ginder was not involved with the negotiations, he said he witnessed the inner workings and stands by the decision made by the mayor.

Nancy Genovese, Whitehall resident and mother to a former volunteer firefighter at Station 40, approached the board with questions regarding funding distribution. She said the former station was a 501(c)3 organization and asked board Solicitor Jack Gross what the township would be doing with those funds.

Gross said he was not the attorney for the fire department and, therefore, would not be able to answer that question. Harakal said he would have to further investigate that matter.

Genovese said the situation has “a lot of loose ends.”

Harakal suggested a private meeting between himself and anyone wanting to discuss Station 40’s closure. Gross said he would be in attendance for such a meeting.

In other business, the board unanimously voted on resolutions and motions to reappoint several township board positions, with the exception of one abstention by Commissioner Jeffrey Warren to the resolution involving him.

Resolutions 3144 and 3145 reappointed John Gulycz and Alan Sandt Jr. to serve on the building code boards of appeals.

Warren and Ben Smith have been reappointed to serve on the Industrial Commercial Development Authority.

Joseph Bonshak has been reappointed to serve on the Coplay Whitehall Sewer Authority.

Barry Keck was reappointed to serve on the township police pension board, and Kevin Serensits will continue to serve as an alternate on the tax appeals board.

The board unanimously passed bill 32, which will rezone a 31.65-acre parcel owned by Whitehall Township from very low-density residential to local commercial.

The commissioners did not discuss the conditional use remand hearing of United Liberty LLC for the property at 1995 Schadt Ave. During the Jan. 4 workshop, the board spent the first portion of the meeting preparing for this court case; however, the hearing did not appear on the public meeting’s agenda.

This meeting was recorded for the public’s viewing and can be found on the township’s YouTube page. The board will meet virtually 7 p.m. Feb. 4 for a workshop. For viewing instructions, visit the township website, whitehalltownship.org.