Residents Get Little Help From Municipality Or Related Agencies
Since heavy flooding in 2004, a generally dry creek bed in Camptown, Wyalusing Township, has become a nearly continuously running stream. According to residents whose properties abut or are near the brook, it has also been about seven years since any municipal authority or government agency has assumed full responsibility for keeping the stream bed clear of debris and preventing more flooding.
In more recent years, several citizens have taken it upon themselves—with or without permits—to try to stave erosion and return the gully to its former shape and size by erecting concrete barriers and dumping heavy stone, among other materials, to shore up what remains of the levee formed by maintenance efforts in the past.
Neighbors closest to the stream insist that Wyalusing Township used to address the situation every two to three years prior to 2004, but township supervisor Marvin Meteer disagrees. While he and other supervisors at an April 5 meeting acknowledged that the stream, now known as Sandts Creek, has become an ongoing problem for Camptown, Meteer disputes residents’ claims that the township ever maintained the Wyalusing Creek tributary “routinely.”
“We have no right to go into any stream bed without permits,” said Meteer. This is especially true, he added, when a stream crosses private property. “If we were to go in and create a situation there (that ultimately threatened homes), the township could be liable.”
After a few excessive storms, Meteer continued, representatives from agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have contacted the supervisors to recommend that the township address specific issues associated with storm damage.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has come in two or three times to write up damage reports,” Meteer added. “That’s when they have allowed the municipalities to do the work or to hire subcontractors.”
None of the work that has been done on Sandts Creek has satisfied property owners like Patty Otis and Cora Sutton, both of whom have resided on the west side of the stream for decades. In fact, they share the opinions expressed by several other nearby neighbors that limited response to the situation in the past may have already increased the flooding potential.
Otis and neighbor Don Detrick, who has had water run through his yard and basement several times in recent years even though he lives two houses away from the creek, contend that the stream bed used to be about six feet deep. At present, there is less than two feet of clearance under the roadbed of Route 409 where a small bridge spans the gully.
Meteer agrees that the stream bed used to be deeper, but he does not believe that it was ever six feet deep. When one looks at Sandts Creek at Church Street, where work was done several years ago by Detrick and others (with a DEP permit), however, the perceived elevation of the levee created by dredging is at least six feet above water level. The work did not continue to Route 409, which allowed stone, sediment and storm debris to build up and slow down the water flow, thus raising the water table along Otis’s property and flooding her basement, which requires continuous pumping. Another result is the erosion of the west bank that now threatens Otis’s shed and Sutton’s garage.
“The stream has become wider than the bridge,” she explained. “It’s eventually going to come out and go over Route 409.”
“We need help so bad,” Sutton concurred. “It keeps getting closer to the driveway and taking away my yard.” She used to grow flowers along the bank, and there was plenty of room to walk between her garage and the stream. “Now, it looks cruddy, and it’s not safe to go through there.” Spotty repairs in recent years have created water holes that Sutton considers to be a danger to her grandchildren when they visit. Otis added that the same water holes have been breeding grounds for mosquitos. Like Otis, Sutton maintains numerous pumps to keep the water out of her basement.
During the April 5 meeting, Meteer gave Otis contact information for PennDOT, DEP and the Bradford County Soil Conservation Service (BCSCS), the same agencies with whom Meteer has been corresponding to address the problems with the stream. He suggested that the more people Otis could encourage to make phone calls, the better their chances might be for a satisfactory resolution.
Since then, Meteer has spoken with PennDOT representative Jared McMicken, who told him that the agency is in the process of acquiring permits to clean out the area under the bridge and approximately 50 feet in each direction from the roadway.
“We can’t just go in there and dig the stream up without a permit,” McMicken stated, noting that he planned to personally investigate the situation on April 12.
Otis feels that another temporary fix by PennDot is likely to leave a higher portion of the stream bed between Route 409 Church Street, where the previous work was done.
Meteer indicated that he shares the hopes of Camptown residents who were interviewed for this story that DEP will also investigate the situation soon and help to develop a more comprehensive plan that will address the entire stretch.
Otis did get the attention of BCSCS, but a representative who met her at her home on March 11 told both her and Sutton that Wyalusing Township ultimately bears the responsibility for the stream.
“Everyone just keeps passing the buck,” Otis lamented, adding that most of the agency representatives with whom she speaks keep turning her back to the township. Part of the problem, concerned parties have suggested, is the fact that the agencies that might provide some assistance are not on the same page, referring to Sandts Creek alternately as a stream and a “diversion ditch.” Detrick noted that he gave the creek its present name in order to get the permit he needed from DEP. He is also unconvinced that DEP is preventing the township from taking action.
“I don’t care what anyone says, it all comes down to the almighty dollar, and nobody has the funding,” Detrick remarked.
“There are funds out there if you know where to look for them,” said Sutton, who is in the process of acquiring free trees from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to plant along what is left of the stream bank on her property. “It seems to me though that it’s more important to fix the stream,” she asserted.
Meteer maintains that a cooperative effort by the residents near the stream to get the attention of several agencies simultaneously might provide the best outcome, even if the property owners end up with some or all of the bill for a properly engineered solution to the matter.
“Id be willing to sit down with everybody if they wanted to,” McMicken responded when apprised of Meteer’s suggestion. “If everybody did their part at once, we might be able to resolve it that way.”
In the meantime, Meteer cautions individual residents against taking matters into their own hands.
“It doesn’t make any difference if it’s a homeowner or who it is. They have to have permits to work in a stream,” said Meteer, noting that at least one homeowner has already been cited for dumping materials into or along the stream.
Camptown resident Patty Otis looks out over Sandts Creek where it passes under Route 409. Neglect of the stream has allowed for a buildup of sediment and debris that has raised the stream bed in recent years, creating storm runoff and erosion issues for which Otis and her neighbors cannot get any help.Photo by Rick Hiduk