|Owlett, Causer co-host Policy Committee hearing in Wellsboro
– Government officials, conservation leaders and area landowners must work together to properly maintain creeks and streams to prevent devastating floods like the ones seen in the region this summer, members of the House Majority Policy Committee heard Monday.
The hearing was co-hosted by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) and Policy Committee Chairman Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter) at the Wellsboro Fire Department Annex. It was preceded by a tour to several problem areas, including Knox Road, Grubb Road Bridge, Seeley Street in Knoxville, and PJ Wood Family Farm.
“The extreme flooding we’ve seen in some of our communities presents a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of our citizens – and in so many cases it’s preventable,” Owlett said. “We need to be able to properly maintain our creeks and streams, and I’m grateful to members of the Policy Committee for coming to our area to learn more about the problem and work toward potential solutions.”
“Gravel bars and other stream obstructions are causing issues in communities across the Northern Tier,” Causer said. “When we are looking to make policy changes to resolve this problem, it’s beneficial to have members downstate who understand the issue and the need to address it.”
The hearing featured testimony from county and local officials in Tioga and Bradford counties; conservation officials from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), PA Fish and Boat Commission and local conservation districts; and farmers and landowners.
Three major themes raised during testimony included the importance of working proactively to mitigate flood damage before it happens; frustrations with permitting delays and costs; and funding for stream maintenance projects.
“We need to be proactive, not reactive, in addressing or implementing practices that guide water within the banks of waterways,” said Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge. “Not to suggest oversight of the DEP should not be employed; however, boroughs and townships truly need to be able, with permission when a site is identified, to begin their work before another storm creates greater damage that would/could be prevented.”
Deven Martin, supervisor in Delmar Township, Tioga County, expressed frustration with the complicated and costly process of obtaining permits to maintain streams and with the limitations they face in keeping culverts and bridges clean from debris. “There needs to be options for both townships and landowners to clean the streams of debris. For example, if we can see an obvious problem (like a tree down) outside of the 50 feet, why can we not address that and prevent a future problem?” he said. “I think this would save countless hours, dollars and headaches down the road. I am not the only person who has thought this, so we need to stop thinking and come up with a simple plan to accomplish this goal.”
Several farmers and landowners echoed the need for general permits that would allow municipalities to act quickly when flooding threatens or occurs. They also stressed the importance of government agencies helping residents rather than intimidating and threatening fines against landowners who simply want to protect their land.
“What we need is a balanced approach to stream maintenance,” said Dean Jackson of Mt. Glen Farm in Bradford County. “Carefully removing gravel bars, downed trees, stumps and rocks, and straightening where necessary to keep water where it belongs. Instead of continuing to erode side to side, cutting massive tonnage of topsoil, gravel and dirt, as well as undercutting trees and shrubs, tipping them into streams and making matters worse. Gravel can be used by landowners, local townships and the state. Water stays where it belongs because stream channels would have the capacity for a flood.”
Joe Quatrini of the Bradford County Conservation District highlighted his county’s Emergency Permit Pilot Program that allows landowners to act before flooding occurs to regain stream channel capacity and protect their land and property. The program includes an education element to ensure any modifications are done properly and won’t contribute to further problems down the road. Lawmakers suggested similar programs may be beneficial in other counties as well.
Erica Tomlinson of the Tioga County Conservation District noted her agency has issued many streambank protection and gravel bar removal permits this year; however, many landowners do not have the financial means to pay for the costly repairs to property and structures that have been impacted. She also noted gravel bars tend to fill back up and the repeat cleanups are costly. She suggested broader changes are needed across watersheds to improve local waterways, including increasing organic matter in soils, providing access to flood plains and planting trees both along streambanks and in upland areas.
“I’d like to thank everyone who participated in the hearing by testifying or simply attending,” Owlett said. “Based on information gathered on the tour and during the hearing, we have a number of ideas for legislation we will be drafting in the near future.”
Video of the hearing and written testimony will be available soon at www.PAGOPPolicy.com.
Representative Martin T. Causer
67th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Representative Clint Owlett
68th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia A. Hippler