Radio PA Roundtable – October 28-30, 2016

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, officials from Fayette County have concerns after devastating flooding in their region over the summer; veterans groups tell lawmakers about their needs in the coming years; and the state House of Representatives avoids one big vote in the stretch run of the legislative session.

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Good News and Bad News for Fall Pheasant Stocking

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has some updated figures on the number of pheasants lost due to flooding.  They’ve recovered about 8 to 9 thousand of the birds they thought were lost to flooding from Tropical Storm Lee. Those birds were still running around outside the holding pens.  In addition,   there was not quite as much damage to two of the agency’s game farms in Lycoming County as first feared.

Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser says the flooding at the Loyalsock and Northcentral game farms did not impact core equipment or resources they will need to ramp up pheasant production next year.  They expect to take the number of birds to the 200,000 level.

Feaser says some of the buildings, like the hatcheries, just got a little flood water inside, and need clean up.  For the most part, all of the mechanized and computerized equipment escaped damage.  He says the barns, workshops, farm equipment and water lines in the fields were all relatively untouched.

However, because of the loss of about 31,000 pheasants, they’ll only be able to stock about 74 thousand birds this year. The commission had planned to stock just over 100,000.

***Photo of Ring Necked Pheasant by Joe Kosack/PGC Photo

Hazard Mitigation Is Part of Post-Flood Follow Up

In the aftermath of a disaster, clean up is the main focus.  But officials are already looking at ways they can prevent some of the devastating flooding from happening again.   Tropical Storm Lee brought more than a foot of rain to parts of Pennsylvania, but some of the flooding was made worse by other factors according to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Glen Cannon.

Cannon says the levees along the Susquehanna did protect a number of people, but the system being incomplete caused severe damage for other people.  He says it funneled the water down into a channel, increasing the speed and causing the water to back up into other tributaries above those levees, and flood in places that had never been flooded before.

Cannon says PEMA is actively working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on hazard mitigation.  He says they don’t want to wait until the disaster is over.

Cannon says as they figure out the dollar value of the disaster, which is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars, ten percent of it will be given back in the form of money to be used for disaster mitigation projects across the Commonwealth.

Cannon says hazard mitigation applications must come to PEMA from the local and county governments. He adds a county must have its own mitigation plan to be eligible to receive some of the funding.  But he says that should not be a problem in Pennsylvania. The state hired a contractor to work with the counties to make sure their plans were in place.

Cannon spoke at a recent joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which is considering a state disaster assistance program to fill the gap when disaster fall below the federal threshold for aid.

Rain Increases Flooding Threat Again

Some areas that had barely dried out after Tropical Storm Lee were getting hit with flooding again as a low pressure system brought showers and heavy downpours to parts of Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday. The eastern half of the state was under flash flood watches and warnings.

Flooding was reported in Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties, areas that had been hit earlier this month by Lee. Flood warnings were also issued for parts of Columbia, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill, Snyder, Northumberland, Cumberland, Perry, York, Montour, Sullivan, Tioga, Lycoming and Union counties.

Charles Ross, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in State College, says the ground is still very saturated, and it doesn’t take a lot of rain to cause flooding. A low pressure system to the west brought moisture from the south with rain showers and embedded heavier thunderstorms.

Ross says August was already a wet month, and then we had Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. He says that raised the risk for quick rises on streams, creeks and rivers in areas hit by heavy downpours. He says the rainfall amounts from this system are not anywhere near the level of Lee, but some areas were getting 3-6 inches.

Ross says the rain should start moving out Thursday and by the weekend, it will feel like fall.

Committees Discuss Possible State Disaster Assistance Fund, Prevention is also Highlighted

Disaster relief is not only a matter of picking up the pieces from the last severe storm or event, but looking at ways to prevent some of the problems the next time.  State lawmakers heard that message this week as they talked about the idea of a state disaster assistance fund. They’re  considering a fund that would help in recovery, when the threshold for federal aid is not reached.  

Any discussion of a small disaster program should also focus on prevention according to David Sanko, director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.  He told a joint hearing of the state House and Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees that if municipalities could take preventative action like cleaning out streams and rivers, many flooding disasters could be reduced or eliminated.

 Sanko says the current state Department Environmental Protection process to obtain an emergency permit should be streamlined so that a municipality can go in and take corrective action before, and not after a disaster occurs.  He says the buildup of gravel bars and other items in the stream bed can occur quickly, and increase the possibility of flood damage and its severity.

Sanko says they also recommend DEP amend its regulations to develop a process to preauthorize emergency issuance of all general permits needed to allow municipalities to remove all impediments, such as fallen trees or gravel bars which occur suddenly.  He says DEP should consider using flood prevention money to pay for stream cleanup that they oversee and control.  He says local governments should not have to go through the permitting process, and then foot the bill to alleviate flooding hazards in their community.

Sanko says it’s a matter of prioritizing.  He says prevention is a lot less expensive than cleanup.

Capitol View from East Wing

Bills Drafted in Response to Massive Floods


Bloomsburg Flood - Tropical Storm Lee

Bloomsburg, Columbia County was among the hardest hit areas.

As recent flooding reached historic proportions in many communities, lawmakers are preparing bills to augment federal disaster aid and speed the recovery process.  “State government will never be the ultimate insurer,” says State Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).  “But when disaster strikes, it is a core function of government to protect lives & property, to restore public safety & infrastructure, and to provide victims the necessities of life when the emergency robs them of everything they need and value,”

Officials say the seven-bill, bipartisan package should be ready soon, and they expect quick action once it’s been formally introduced. 

One bill would create a special account to provide additional state grant money to eligible flood victims who’ve maxed out their federal aid. 

State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia)

State Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia)

Another bill would authorize $250-million dollars in bonds to pay to repair flood damaged roads and bridges.  “We will be getting, hopefully, a tremendous amount of federal assistance for the hundreds – maybe thousands – of roads and bridges that have been damaged, but normally the federal government provides about 75% of the funding,” says State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia), who’s spearheading the effort. 

Three bills in the package would authorize county-by-county lists of flood damaged roads, bridges and flood control systems, adding them to the state’s capital budget. 

Local taxing bodies would have the ability to abate the property taxes on condemned structures, under another bill.  The final bill of the package would allow for educational waivers for things like the 180-instructional day mandate.  “I can tell you that I have at least one school district in my senatorial district that as of today still is not back in school,” Gordner explains.  “That is the Benton Area School District in Columbia County.” 

In addition to Senators Gordner and Baker, John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and John Blake (D-Lackawanna) are sponsoring parts of the package of bills.  The sponsors have not yet put a price tag on the legislation, but the special account for flood victims would come out of the budget surplus from fiscal year 2010/2011.