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Flood-Ravaged Community Demands Help from Hatboro Government

Officials say they plan to coordinate with state and federal agencies and will revisit a flood damage inventory and DEP study, which has stalled for the last several months.

Spurred by two recent devastating storms and subsequent flooding, about 60 Hatboro residents filled the Hatboro Borough Council meeting Monday night in an attempt to get answers.

The sometimes-heated question-and-answer session with the governing body may have resulted in more questions than answers.

Would Hatboro be declared a federal disaster site?

If so, when would that happen?

What help is offered for residents – particularly those from the oft-flooded community – as they are forced to rebuild again?

Could homes that sustained significant flood damage be purchased by the federal government, as officials had suggested?

And, perhaps the million dollar question: What’s being done to stop the overflow of water from Pennypack Creek?

“Obviously those are all answers we don’t have yet,” Borough Manager Steven Plaugher said. “We’re working with the federal government, the state government and our local surrounding municipalities.”

Plaugher said he arranged a meeting with Upper Moreland officials for next week and has involved both the federal and state emergency management agencies along the way. Representatives of FEMA and PEMA have accompanied Plaugher on visits to some of the . At least for right now, Hatboro – and Montgomery County as a whole – , as was announced prior to last week’s unexpected , the sequel to .

Other rounds of disaster relief will follow, but it is not clear if and when Hatboro would be considered, officials said.

“It’s not a dead issue, but it hasn’t been declared as of yet,” Hatboro attorney Michael Savona said.

Borough officials sympathized, but said there was little the local government could do on its own. Councilwoman Nancy Guenst, a former Woodwinds resident, said she understood the sentiments shared.

“I moved when I lost my first floor,” Guenst said.

In all, during Hurricane Irene, Property Manager Bob Felte told Patch previously.

Woodwinds resident Tracy Thatford, who distributed a letter during Monday’s meeting that she drafted to Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as other government officials, said the battered homes can’t withstand another major storm.

“We can’t delay any further. We need to do something,” Thatford said. “Some of these units had to be gutted. There was sewage. There was mud.”

One woman said her home sustained $18,000 worth of internal structural damage stemming from water coming through the brick. 

“If this happens again, I’m losing two feet of my house,” she said. "We need some kind of temporary fix to keep the water from rushing against our houses."

The woman, who said in four years of owning the home she’s dealt with “three devastating floods,” suggested dredging the creek. 

Councilman Bill Tompkins pointed out that anything done to Pennypack Creek would require a DEP permit. And since , particularly in the area of Woodwinds, he said taking another measure prior to the study’s conclusion would not be likely.

“It’s going to take time to get into a budget,” Tompkins said of funding to cover potential flooding fixes. “They may come back and say ‘it’s hopeless’ and the only solution is buy out or condemn (the homes).”

The study, which was to get underway in February with collection of flood damage inventory, has stalled, due in large part to personnel changes in the borough, as well as within DEP, Plaugher said.

“There’s all new people on board,” said Plaugher, who himself is new. “Although (a resolution) was passed in February, I don’t believe it has moved too much further than that. We want to pick up where that left off.”

Plaugher said he’s planning to meet with the new DEP representative next week. Felte, who had worked with previous Borough Manager Tommy Ryan on the matter, said the study was left in the information gathering stage. Residents of Woodwinds and neighboring properties were supposed to get a letter from the borough inquiring about the type of flood damage that their homes have sustained over the years.

“This is the first time since 1997 … that anybody at the state level was willing to step to the plate and say ‘we’ll push the project,’ ” Felte said. “That’s the one piece we can grasp onto right now.”

Several in attendance, including Woodwinds landlord Shari Limbert, spoke out against the delay.

“That should’ve never happened,” Limbert said. “To hear that something that may have helped us has been stagnant for seven months is disconcerting.”

Plaugher said it’s unlikely that corrective action would have been in place for the last two floods.

Tompkins said Upper Moreland coordinated with DEP on a flood damage inventory and study for the frequently flooded – which is also partially situated in Hatboro.

“The damage wasn’t significant enough to cover the cost of improvements,” Tompkins said.

Hatboro had lent its support to Upper Moreland’s flood improvements request. In addition to collaborating with Upper Moreland, Hatboro officials suggested also working with Warminster.

Savano, who also represents Warminster, said the township’s governing body has made a lot of effort to try to curb flooding. In terms of stormwater management for new construction, he said, “no one’s cheating or taking shortcuts.”

“It’s not any one project that tips the scale,” Savano said. “The regulations today are probably 10 times more intensive … than they ever were. What we’re trying to do now is catch up for 50 or 60 years.”

Scott Johnson September 13, 2011 at 11:58 AM
The problem that Hatboro faces with flood water is that most of the space in Hatboro has already been developed, therefore area's that could be used as retaining pools and other ways of preventing water from entering the creek quickly are hard to come by. Most of the area was developed before they even thought seriously about flooding and how preventing water from rushing into the creeks was important. It also means that any improvements would be extremely costly to the borough and the land owner. Hopefully we can get some federal disaster aid and if possible maybe the home owners can be bought out of their damaged buildings and we can move them out of the flood plain. Also hopefully a comprehensive plan with all the communities along the pennypack to retain as much water as possible for as long as possible from rushing into the pennypack. Unfortunately stormwater management is never easy or cheap. Hopefully the Zoning board will make sure they do not permit more variances when it comes to complying to storm water ordinances.
Bill Tompkins September 13, 2011 at 12:40 PM
Scott, you make a good point about the built up nature of the area and how hard that makes it to get solutions. I do not understand your shot at the zoning hearing board, I can not recall any stormwater variances that have been requested or allowed.
Bill Tompkins September 13, 2011 at 12:48 PM
There is a comprehensive watershed management plan that has been developed and is nearing completion. I personally think that it lets the municipalities closest to the headwaters off too easy. My simple way of looking at it is that every gallon removed or delayed at the top of the stream is a gallon that each and every one of the downstream municipalites don't have to worry about. You can get a lot of information at http://www.csc.temple.edu/pennypack/ and http://www.csc.temple.edu/projects/projects_act167.htm
Scott Johnson September 13, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Hey Bill, Sorry if that came off as a critism of the Hatboro Zoning hearing Board, it was more a general comment that many boards in other townships are not that interested in the effects of storm water especially in the past or the effects of their policy on the towns downstream. I haven't heard of any bad calls zoning wise in the last few years with the zoning board and I've always been very happy with your work on that board. Thanks Bill ^_^ We just have to keep vigiant that suddenly we don't have bad calls that effect us 10 years later.
Bill Tompkins September 13, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Scott, sorry that I misinterpreted your comment as a shot. I too think the zoning hearing board has been great at being vigilant about what variances they grant. Just to clarify, I am on Borough Council, not the zoning hearing board. The zoning hearing board is an independent body and they are the only ones that can grant zoning waivers.
Joann G. September 13, 2011 at 03:41 PM
I am a resident of Woodwinds and I went to the meeting last night. I was very disappointed. Not only did we (the residents) did not get any answers to our concerns but I felt it was a waste of time. I do not believe the township really understands what we go through everytime it rains. Everytime it rains (heavy) we have a 99% chance we will get at least 1-3 inches of water in our homes. We constantly have to clean and replace items that are ruined from the water. IT IS ALL THE TIME. My family has lived in this development for approx. 5 years and since 2007 we have sustained numerous floods in our home. Back in 2009 it was just water NOW we deal with not only the water but mud. It is so frustrating!!!!
Rich Seeds September 13, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Scott & Bill, about the only land I can think of which is undeveloped and readily accessible would be the fields on the west wide of Pennypack elementary. But there is still the huge issues of building the retention basins and redirecting the storm drains to them. I think we can all agree that we certainly need to do something, but that the are going to be no quick or easy answers. I'm sure dredging and working on channel maintenance would help as would evaluating the drainage systems for the larger structures along the creek. What I do know for certain is that Manager Plaugher has been an absolute pleasure to work with and has been extremely responsive and respectful of the citizens. I am really impressed with the work he, our Borough employees and emergency responders have done in the past couple of weeks. They really stepped up to the plate during both events. Thank you all for your hard work and service to the community!
Scott Johnson September 13, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Frances, You nailed it right there, a lot of unintended consequences. It's only in the last few decades we even started to care about the effects different things would have on flooding. It wasn't too long ago that many places thought that just getting the water out of their area was the best thing to do with storm-water until the towns downstream started to flood out.
Joe Coffee September 13, 2011 at 04:58 PM
These are all issues that should have been addressed 20 years ago and yet it still lingers on today. Land needs to be cleared and retention basins need to be constructed. The water HAS to go somewhere this problem needs to be addressed.
Toni Kistner September 14, 2011 at 02:37 AM
Whatever is done, I'd like to see the natural beauty of the creek to be taken into account. It would be a tragedy to see the Pennypack lose it's fascinating character, as has been done in the past in Hatboro. There is a nice little tributary that ran through the Boro before it was cover up by cement and roadway.
Bill Tompkins September 14, 2011 at 03:26 AM
just found the following looking online The assistance is available to homeowners and renters. It can help pay for repairs, rental assistance, and other disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance or other relief, said OEM. The program also is in place in Bucks, Chester, Delaware Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and other Pa. counties. To apply for individual assistance go to http://www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week. No deadline was immediately given on when people can apply until.

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