HARRISBURG – Just a few weeks after their package of creek and stream maintenance bills were first introduced in the state House, the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Monday held a meeting to gather more information about the initiatives, said Reps. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) and Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna).
Several people from Bradford and Tioga counties were on hand to share their experiences and advocate for advancement of the bills.
“Today’s meeting was very encouraging,” Owlett said. “Our local folks cited some pretty stark examples of how current practices are tying the hands of our local officials and property owners when it comes to cleaning out creeks and streams to protect against flooding. I think the concepts we are proposing were well-received and I am hopeful the committee will act upon them in the near future.”
“It is a difficult issue for which to find all the solutions that are needed, but we do believe these bills will provide some of them,” said Pickett. “Residents in our region and across the Commonwealth are completely frustrated when they are thwarted after suggesting a remedy to prevent flooding in their communities. We look forward to being able to help local governments cut through some of that red tape through the reasonable changes proposed in our legislative package.”
Among those addressing the committee during the meeting were Delmar Township Supervisor Deven Martin, who was speaking on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors; Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller, who serves as president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, and Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge; and Tioga County farmers Johnny Painter of Painterland Farms and Phil Wood of Wood Family Farm, who were joined by Darrin Youker of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
In his testimony, Martin said the issue of stream maintenance and flooding is among the biggest challenges facing townships. He pointed to a situation in which it took 10 months for his township to gain approval of a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection to replace a failing culvert, which led to closing a lane of the roadway in order to ensure driver safety. Once the permit was approved, the project itself took just two days.
“We must do a better job of cleaning the streams so we can save our structures when flooding takes place,” Martin told the committee. “There needs to be options for cleaning the streams of debris. If we can see an obvious problem, such as a tree down or a gravel bar outside of the 50 feet, why can we not address that and prevent a future problem?”
Miller discussed Bradford County’s pilot program that allows municipalities to more easily and promptly address creek and stream issues, while Coolidge noted the importance of being proactive rather than reactive in addressing stream clearing issues, as it will protect against property damage and save taxpayers money.
Painter relayed a story in which he was fined $1,000 for removing a fallen tree from a creek. The tree was causing the water to dam up and cross into his field and another farmer’s field. The next time a tree fell and caused a new channel to form, he contacted DEP but before the agency granted a permit to clean it up, the area flooded and washed out 1.5 acres of topsoil from his farm.
“We could fix a lot of these issues if we didn’t have to get permission to take a tree out,” Painter said. “We don’t want to ruin the streams or make fast water channels. We just want to be able to do the things that need to do so we can make a living and produce a good quality food product for the rest of society.”
Video of the committee meeting is available here
The stream maintenance package of bills includes the following:
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.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia Hippler