FOW reviews progress during pandemic, hosts Phila. Water commissioner at annual meeting

by Pete Mazzaccaro
Posted 6/9/21

The Friends of the Wissahickon held its annual meeting again on Tuesday, June 1 via Zoom, the second time it was compelled to do so to account for Covid-19 mitigation. The tone of the meeting, …

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FOW reviews progress during pandemic, hosts Phila. Water commissioner at annual meeting

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The Friends of the Wissahickon held its annual meeting again on Tuesday, June 1 via Zoom, the second time it was compelled to do so to account for Covid-19 mitigation. The tone of the meeting, however, was thoroughly optimistic with nearly all who spoke convinced that the days of pandemic restrictions would soon be left in the past.

The annual meeting of the formidable non-profit group dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the Wissahickon park, was largely a state-of-the organization review for the past year and an opportunity to feature a presentation by Philadelphia Water Commissioner, Randy E. Hayman, Esq.

In the black

The positive tone of the meeting was no doubt helped along by the report of FOW treasurer, Jim Walker, who reviewed a financial report that showed the organization had current assets of $1.645 million, $1.243 of which were cash. Those assets were preserved, he said by Payroll Protection Plan loans that had been approved as grants.

In addition to the PPP loans, the FOW received $915,296 in grants and contributions and had not spent at normal levels because so many plans were put on hold or scaled back due to Covid-19. Walker said he expected the pace of spending on programs would pick up again as many of the organization’s plans are placed back on track.

“We had a pretty good year considering the pandemic, Walker said. “With the PPP loans, we were able to keep all our employees on payroll throughout the year. It’s really terrific because we have a terrific team and we really wanted to keep them together.”

Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond

FOW Executive Director Ruffian Tittmann reiterated Walker’s optimism for the coming year, noting the accomplishments FOW managed during 2020 and its ambitious plans for the coming year.

“When we started out 2020, we had a really ambitious plan of capital projects that would be undertaken or well into development,” she said. “A lot of that had to be delayed because of Covid.”

Tittmann said she and FOW staff and volunteers considered what they could do. Despite the setback, they were able to do a lot.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the organization last year was the completion of its Monster Trail renovation. Tittmann noted that FOW improved 935 linear feet of trail, removed 67 trees from the trail and had rebuilt the Valley Green foot bridge.

In addition, Tittmann said FOW had removed 13,380 pounds of trash from the park, planted 688 native species trees and had completed a  garden with more than 650 plants that will be a critical stopping point for migrating monarch butterflies. During the past year, FOW membership grew by 15%.

Green City, Clean Waters

The featured speaker for the evening was Commissioner Hayman, who detailed the many things the Philadelphia Water Department does to manage the city’s water supply and discussed the city’s Green City, Clean Water comprehensive plan.

Hayman, who was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney in June 2019, has previously worked for water departments in St. Louis and Washington D.C. He called the city’s parks, and the efforts of volunteer organizations like FOW, extraordinary.

“The parks and streams here in Philly are like no other,” he said. “And the grassroots participation and protection of them is like no other in the country. It’s community commitment.”

Hayman detailed the efforts of the department, which serves 1.7 million customers with drinking water, sewage treatment and storm water. The department, he said, is most focused on replacing and renewing an infrastructure that he said was in “end-life stage.” Those efforts include replacing make up some 400 projects at a cost of $2.5 billion.

In addition to replacing aging storm, sewage and water lines, the department was working to modernize old combined systems that merged sewage and drainage lines. Presently, 60% of the city’s storm and sewage drains are combined. The department is working to modernize and separate those services.

Noting the city’s Green City, Clean Waters program, Hayman said the department had reduced combined sewer overflows by 2.7 billion gallons, a 21% improvement and had created more than 800 sites to handle stormwater.

Other Business

A few others notable items from last week’s meeting included the approval of two new board members. The first new member is Adam De Paul, a tribal council member of Lenape Nation and co- curator of the Lenape Cultural Center in Easton. He’s a Ph.D. candidate at Temple University and an instructor there. The second is Darium Poke, an audit manager at Baker Tilly, a financial services firm in Philadelphia. Poke is Co-Chair of Baker Tilly’s Philadelphia Chapter of SOAR (Supporting Opportunity Advancement and Recognition for all).

Another item of note was the retirement of longtime Andorra “Tree House” Environmental Education Specialist Trish Fries. Fries retired after 18 years at the center.

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