HARRISBURG – Continuing to lead the way on regulatory reform and getting government out of the way, House Republicans on Tuesday highlighted their latest effort to cut red tape in the form of a package of bills that would empower local governments to better maintain their creeks and streams to protect lives and livelihoods from flooding.
“Government should exist to solve problems, not create them,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), chairman of the House Majority Policy Committee. “All too often, this administration has created problems with the heavy hand of overregulation. Once again, we are taking action to solve those problems.”
Just as they have done with fighting Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closure orders and managing post-pandemic regulatory relief, House Republicans are poised to take action this week on a package of bills that would remove the regulatory roadblocks that prevent local officials from taking the necessary steps to protect their communities against flooding.
The bills were developed following a hearing of the Majority Policy Committee late last year in Wellsboro, Tioga County, at the invitation of Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter).
“Our region has experienced some severe flooding events in recent years, and it was clear that not being able to properly maintain our creeks and streams was a major factor in the damage being done to our roads and bridges, as well as businesses and homes,” Owlett said. “When you know a storm is coming, you want to prepare for it. When you see a problem brewing, you want to address it before it gets worse. And yet, all too often, our local officials and landowners are prevented from doing this by overregulation. These bills would empower our local leaders to do what is necessary to protect lives and livelihoods.”
“Any time disaster strikes, our highly knowledgeable local officials and staff with boots on the ground in our communities understand exactly what needs to be done to protect citizens and property,” added Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy (ERE) Committee, which held an informational meeting on the bills earlier this spring and advanced the package in late May. “We do not need state bureaucrats telling them when they can and cannot do high-priority stream clearing and maintenance work, which they know must be done in a timely fashion to prevent flooding.”
The package of eight bills would clear pathways for local officials to maintain creeks and streams by creating special permits for smaller projects and long-term maintenance efforts, and by clarifying what types of work may be done without a permit. When creeks and streams see a buildup of gravel and other debris, it may change the direction of the stream channel, leading to damage to structures not properly engineered to handle the flow. It also increases the likelihood of flooding because the stream channel is more shallow or narrow than it once was.
A farmer and two local officials from Owlett’s district who testified at the initial Policy Committee hearing, as well as the ERE Committee meeting, joined lawmakers for the press conference to advocate for approval of the bills and reinforce why changes are needed.
Speaking on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), Deven Martin, a supervisor in Delmar Township, Tioga County, said “few issues are felt as strongly statewide by the PSATS membership as the need to be able to take preventative action to reduce or eliminate flooding events in a timely fashion without going through a complex, lengthy and expensive permit process.”
Speaking on behalf of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Tioga County farmer John Painter stated, “As we continue to see homes, businesses and farmland destroyed by flooding, doing nothing is no longer an option. We are hopeful that the General Assembly will move swiftly on this package of legislation and equally as important, we hope the Department of Environmental Protection and all stakeholders can embrace these changes and work with the farmers and local authorities towards a more improved solution for everyone.”
Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller, who also serves as president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), said the issue is part of the organization’s platform this year. He shared how a pilot program with the Bradford County Conservation District is helping to address some of the stream maintenance problems there, noting that one of the bills in the package – House Bill 2405
– would formalize the program and make it available in all counties.
In addition to CCAP and PSATS, the bills also have the support of the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
The full list of bills in the package is as follows:
House Bill 2404
(Owlett): Would allow local government organizations to apply for a permit for continuing maintenance for a period of at least 10 years for the streams within their jurisdiction. This permit would grant an affirmative duty to the local government entity to properly maintain the streams and would not require the local government to get pre-approval for maintenance projects.
House Bill 2405
(Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna): Would create a program that allows counties to opt in to address hazards within their streams by allowing for emergency maintenance permits in consultation with their county conservation district. This is modeled after a pilot project that has proven successful in Bradford County
House Bill 2406
(Rep. Jonathan Fritz, R-Susquehanna/Wayne): Would create a permit specific to smaller maintenance projects for the mitigation of flood-related hazards of less than 250 linear feet. This permit would be reviewed and issued by the local county conservation district.
House Bill 2407
(Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Lycoming/Union): Would clarify that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has no authority for permitting or enforcement related to stream clearing or maintenance activities. This authority shall belong solely to DEP and the county conservation districts as appropriate.
House Bill 2408
(Rep. Mike Armanini, R-Clearfield/Elk): Would declare that no permit or authorization shall be required for maintenance activities conducted on a culvert.
House Bill 2409
(Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington): Would state that no permit shall be required for the removal of flood-related hazards from streams that are deemed to be an emergency by a state or county.
House Bill 2410
(Rep. Brian Smith, R-Jefferson/Indiana): Would state that no permit shall be required for stream maintenance activities conducted 50 feet or less upstream or downstream of a bridge or culvert.
House Bill 2411
(Rep. John Hershey, R-Mifflin/Juniata/Franklin): Would require DEP to issue an annual report to the General Assembly regarding flooding and stream maintenance and restoration.
In addition to these eight bills on the House calendar for a vote this week, lawmakers will consider Owlett’s House Resolution 179
, which calls on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to update its per capita impact indicator and thresholds to ensure all citizens and communities impacted by natural disasters are treated fairly.
Representative Martin T. Causer
House Majority Policy Committee Chairman
67th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives