Residents deserve voice in flood plans

Anyone old enough to recall the devastation wreaked by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 can appreciate flood-control efforts that were undertaken in the aftermath of that wide-scale weather calamity.

Similarly, people who experienced fear and/or destruction from this month’s heavy, persistent rains are likely to be more open to steps deemed necessary to try to prevent future flooding — steps they might have opposed in the past.

Then, some people might be tempted to take matters into their own hands to try to rectify problem conditions that have not been addressed, despite pleas to local, regional or state government officials.

The Johnstown area is no novice to flooding, having been brutalized in 1889, 1936 and 1977, as well as by some lesser water events over the years. Despite having been dubbed “flood free” as a result of flood-control work initiated after 1936, 1977 proved otherwise, including wreaking a toll of lives.

The negative impacts of this month’s rains on places such as Lake Raystown and a significant swath of Bedford County — and the fears generated — will no doubt spawn discussions and planning geared toward being more ready for such weather happenings in future years.

However, one point to emphasize going into whatever brainstorming lies ahead in individual counties is that residents need to have a voice in helping to devise the corrective measures most likely to be successful toward dealing with threatening flood conditions.

What that means is area residents need to have an ongoing window for comment regarding proposed legislation dealing with keeping streams clear of debris and obstructions that can worsen the impact of flooding.

Nevertheless, a fact of life in terms of dealing with flood-prone conditions is there must be reliance on professionals with expertise regarding those conditions. An incorrect course of action can exacerbate flood danger.

Fifty years since Agnes battered places such as Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, with lesser damage extending even to some counties of the Southern Alleghenies region, including Blair, people here need to be watching closely as a package of flooding-related bills travels through the Pennsylvania Legislature, with some lawmakers hoping for quick action.

There is no guarantee yet that state residents will have enough opportunity to express opinions about how the various considerations proceed, but they should have a voice.

Some of what legislators currently are considering, besides initiating stream-cleaning efforts where appropriate and specifying rules affecting, for example, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, are as follows:

– Allow local governments to seek a permit for continuing maintenance of streams.

– Allow counties to opt in to address stream hazards through emergency maintenance permits.

– Creation of conservation district-issued permits for smaller maintenance projects.

– Require the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue an annual report on flooding, stream maintenance and restoration.

Still, besides what is going on in the legislative chambers in Harrisburg, many state residents are cognizant of what is needed to address or lessen flooding dangers close to them. They need to be able to speak about those dangers, as well as certain conditions that have remained off the proverbial radar.

State officials must set aside time to listen, even as they are debating the anti-flooding bills already proposed.


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