TUNKHANNOCK — Forkston Township flood victims still waiting for flood mitigation work on Mehoopany Creek demanded answers from Wyoming County officials on Monday.
They got some, but not the answers they wanted to hear.
County Emergency Management Agency Director Gene Dziak explained the county did not actually receive a $945,000 grant for creek restoration and mitigation work after the flooding of 2011, as residents had believed.
Dziak, along with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency at the meeting with the county commissioners, explained the money was just an estimate for a FEMA-approved project that was completed for far less — $119,250.
So the county received the smaller amount, of which FEMA paid 75 percent and PEMA, 25 percent, said Gary Smyzer of FEMA’s Harrisburg office.
Prone to flooding
That leaves the residents with their homes along Windy Valley Road still prone to flooding and no government money in sight that could fix the problem.
But after a two-hour meeting, the commissioners agreed to form a committee of officials and residents to appeal FEMA’s decision that didn’t permit more projects.
“We put in a worksheet for $945,000 to put the creek against the mountain and remove a gravel bar and debris,” Dziak told the nearly 20 residents crowded into the commissioners meeting room.
Dziak said the county doubled the cost estimate for debris removal because it was thought the work would be more expensive.
But Darlene Miller questioned why the project was done where there are no homes.
Officials said that was the area approved for the project by FEMA, PEMA, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We are limited by the amount of work we can do by DEP permitting, the Army Corps of Engineers,” Dziak explained. He said local projects could only go to a distance of 1,150 feet, the length of the project that was completed. “After that, it becomes an Army Corps of Engineers project,” he said.
Other residents questioned the limited work and said they would be in danger when it floods again.
“I’m like a sitting duck,” said Phil Howell, whose employer has offered to clear flood debris from an area behind his home but can’t get DEP approval.
Resident Joanne Price repeatedly questioned whom she could call to get help. She was told to start with her township supervisors, then the county or DEP. She said she has tried various agencies but got the runaround.
Residents said a private company has offered to clean up the creeks in exchange for taking and selling the creek stone, but it can’t get a permit to do so. Dziak said the Army Corps of Engineers has to do a study before any project, unless the company pays for the study.
That frustrated residents.
“Four of us are still buying water because we can’t use our wells,” Louise Kling said. “No one has come around to ask how we are doing. It’s time this stopped and somebody do something.”
She ask why the creek could not be cleaned out so that residents are not in danger of future flooding. “If this happens at night, there’s going to be a loss of life,” Kling said. “We’ll be going to funerals.”
Further complicating matters is an issue for several homeowners with natural gas leases who are waiting for buyouts. State law states property owners with gas leases can maintain their mineral rights if they sell their property, but FEMA doesn’t buy properties with gas leases, Dziak said.
“We are working diligently on the gas lease issue,” he said.