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Flood plain concerns aired by residents in Harmony

HARMONY — Although state officials sponsored Tuesday evening’s meeting for residents, it was the residents who did most of the talking.

About 50 residents attended the meeting, hosted by state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-14th, and Josh Konechek, district director for state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-47th, at Stewart Hall.

They heard residents raise concerns about developments in neighboring Jackson Township and the filling in of the flood plain there.

The developments are planned for the north side of Connoquenessing Creek, primarily in the township.

One proposal that developer Don Rodgers has for the area is to build townhouses or low-income housing.

Jackson officials said they are in talks with Rodgers about donating land in the flood plain for recreational use. However nothing has been officially done.

Rodgers also filled in the flood plain with dirt last year, causing concern that this would result in higher flood levels.

Borough Councilman Jason Sarver said, “I want to do everything I possibly can to keep the water on that side where it naturally flows into that relief area and not be deflected to our homes.”

Borough council Vice President Don Sims, who was the moderator, said, “Everyone in this room has lived through multiple 100-year floods. They’re very common.”

Written answers by Marshall and Vogel to questions previously submitted by officials and residents were distributed.

One question dealt with who oversees the flood plain.

Marshall and Vogel’s answer is that Jackson Township would review and approve any filling of the flood plain.

“It is the responsibility of the municipality to administer the regulations of the National Flood Insurance Program including the issuance and review of development permits,” the answer states.

But one point of contention is deciding whose responsibility it is to enforce the flood plain regulations.

Jay Grinnell, township planning commission chairman and a former township supervisor, said the township has “no choice” when it comes to approving developments that are within regulations.

“If a developer comes in and he meets the conditions, they review the engineering and they present a plan that meets the requirements, you have no choice. You cannot say no,” Grinnell said. “You approve it or you get sued.”

He also said the planned housing may not be as bad for the borough’s economy as perceived.

“The work force housing probably fits the income of most people in this room,” Grinnell said. “He (Rodgers) did that because he thought he’d get a grant. It sounds really bad until you look at it.”

Act 166, the Flood Plain Management Act, also was brought up, which says the state Department of Environmental Protection is the authority for permitting construction in the flood plain.

However Tracy Plevel, outreach specialist for Marshall, said the state DEP is responsible for regulating the filling of the 100-year floodways, not flood plains.

“It’s a very confusing situation because I’ve spoken with the DEP numerous times. The DEP said it’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) that regulates flood plains,” she said.

Josh Meeder, a member of the Preserving Harmony committee, said the state needs to reform flood management.

He said, “The challenges we found as an organization were the multiple levels in distribution of flood plain management across municipalities and across regulatory agencies.”

Marshall responded, saying that management should be looked at for reformation.

Konechek said Vogel’s office also deals with the confusion, calling it “insanity.”

“There seems to be a need to look at opportunities to consolidate and streamline some things so that you, us and everyone involved has easier ways to handle these things,” he said.

A statement in the answer packet by Marshall and Vogel said Harmony should provide scientific evidence indicating the developments would increase flooding risk.

“In reviewing this matter, we have found that no one has presented necessary evidence at this time to indicate that a future flood would be more catastrophic than previous floods because of this development,” the answer states.

It also states the flood plain analysis “does not support Harmony Borough’s view” that development increases flooding risk.

Harmony Mayor Cathy Rape asked Marshall if he could guarantee that flood insurance rates will not increase due to the new developments.

“Why should the insurances go up on people that can’t do anything about the cause of the water coming on their property? Why should they have to suffer?” she asked.

Borough Councilman Dave Szakelyhidi said, “It’s one thing if it’s an act of God. It’s another thing when it’s a developer. They’re not the same, period.

Marshall said he will not guarantee anything.

Rape also questioned if Marshall received campaign contributions from Rodgers.

Marshall said no, saying “that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”