Commissioners Blast State For ‘Failed Stream Policies’
Help Sought From Citizens To Document Trouble Spots
By Rick Hiduk
Bradford County Commissioners say that they are fed up with the state’s “one-size-fits-all” regulations that have taken stream and creek maintenance out of the hands of municipalities over the past few decades. They hold the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), PennDOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partially responsible for the degree of destruction wrought on local communities during recent flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee.
“A lot of the flooding could have been minimalized if we had been allowed to do routine maintenance of our streams, creeks, and rivers,” said commissioner Doug McLinko. “Those in Harrisburg do not understand that our soils here are different than they are throughout the state,” he added.
In addition to a press release that encourages county residents to help them document flooding issues and watershed anomolies, the commissioners issued a report and map that indicates that Bradford, Susquehanna, and Wyoming Counties are part of the glaciated low plateau section of the Appalachian Plateaus Province, which is unique in its composition of silt, sandstone, and gravel.
When local municipalities were permitted to dredge creeks and realign stream beds after significant storms, the potential for severe flooding, especially flashflooding, was kept in check.
“Now, there’s too much gravel in the rivers and creeks,” said McLinko. “Some of the stream beds are level with people’s homes.” A powerful thunderstorm, he noted, will be all that is necessary to push the same waterways that recently flooded back over their banks. “People who have been flooded are afraid to rebuild their homes.”
“I think that this has been an issue in the Northern Tier for a long time,” Commissioner Mark Smith added. “Local municipalities and even the county have had trouble trying to get permits.”
McLinko acknowledged the importance of conservation, which includes efforts by the Bradford County Conservation District to limit the runoff of nutrients into the watershed that eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay. “But how do you do that when your fields are being washed away?” he stated, further questioning the value of avoiding a gravel bar just because it has some scrub-brush on it, even though the formation may be directly responsible for diverting water into a neighborhood.
Smith hopes that, in light of recent flooding, which was unprecedented in many communities, the county might get a little more cooperation from Harrisburg in terms of allowing for more local control of stream beds and plans for long-term maintenance. Another point of contention is the belief that municipalities should not be bound by state agencies to wait for approval or assistance to routinely remove debris from bridges and storm drains.
In an Oct. 6 commissioners’ meeting, McLinko expressed his doubts that anybody in the state capital will take the distinct combination of soil composition and runoff potential here seriously without a concentrated effort that involves both citizens and elected officials.
“When we go to talk to the state, they say that they can’t do anything, and that’s baloney,” McLinko remarked. “We can go another day just taking what they tell us. We need to demand change.”
The commissioners agree that a grass-roots effort is the best approach to putting creek maintenance back into the hands of township officials, who can work with DEP, PennDOT, and the EPA to formulate long-range policies that address immediate concerns and provide for ongoing maintenance.
Smith explained that the commissioners’ plan is to compile an extensive report that includes photos of problem areas, especially those trouble spots that were revealed during the most recent flooding events, including gravel bars, stream bed shifts, and clogged box culverts and bridge pilings.
Residents may email their photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include the name of the tributary and the location of the trouble spot.
“The time is now,” Smith stated in the press release. “We need to seize the opportunity to demand changes in Harrisburg. We have their attention and no matter where you go in Bradford County or the Northern Tier, people here are aware of what needs to be done.”