Stormwater issues merit attention

Sadly, many families in parts of the United States are facing years of recovery as the result of another catastrophic weather-related event.

This time it is flooding.

Flooding is no stranger to central Pennsylvania. However, flooding here generally is of a much smaller scale and shorter duration than what many other areas of the country experience.

There have been exceptions, however, such as Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 and, to the west, the Johnstown area flood of 1977.

While usually escaping the proverbial “bad stuff,” Blair County residents and officials nonetheless don’t regard flooding as the proverbial farthest-thing-from-their-minds.

As an article in the June 2 Mirror pointed out, the condition of streams here is a matter of ongoing vigilance and concern because of frequent wet-weather conditions that the region experiences.

Besides naturally occurring changes and conditions, what’s also continuing to impact streams is the Clean Water Act passed in the 1980s. A provision of that law ended the standard up-to-that-time practice of dredging, which in many cases had helped lessen or alleviate flooding dangers.

Differing opinions still exist on whether the dredging rule is more detrimental than good; there never will be unanimous agreement. However, it’s an issue worthy of continuing discussion and re-evaluation.

Anyone confused over what is allowed and what is not needs to be proactive in regard to obtaining guidance, either from local officials or from the state.

Meanwhile, flooding and dredging aren’t the only water-related issues upon which area units of government are focusing.

A May 20 Mirror article dealt with special municipal stormwater assessments — a topic that might generate heated public debate in coming weeks and months, since they’re already under serious consideration in some places.

But it’s reasonable to suggest that negative reactions shouldn’t be directed solely at local governments or, in Blair County’s case, at the county Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee. Rather, the main targets of locally based unhappiness should be the state and federal governments, which are “behind” the unfunded mandate requiring that ISC spend $6.2 million over five years to reduce sediment entering area streams by 1.4 million pounds annually.

Unfortunately, unfunded mandates are not new. They’ve been issued numerous times in the past.

The problem with them is that they put additional pressure on local governments’ tight budgets, sometimes requiring cuts in programs or tax increases.

That is why Blair Township, for one, is talking about an annual $39 fee on each land parcel, or other possible options, to help cover the township’s $90,000 payment to the ISC as well as the municipality’s other stormwater-related costs.

Currently, the township covers those expenditures with property tax revenue and earned income tax collections, but that’s regarded — correctly — as an unsustainable situation.

A good suggestion for Blair County residents, going forward, is to pay attention to stormwater-related developments — what is being done and what is being proposed. When public meetings are scheduled, plan to attend them, both to gain an understanding of the issue’s many aspects and to offer respectful comments and suggestions.

Although Blair County usually escapes the kind of horrific flooding many other places experience, water issues never should be a subject of indifference here.

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