Long range solutions sought for watershed


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PINE GROVE- Everyone agreed. What happens up stream doesn't stay upstream. People living downstream are also affected. But can those people living downstream wait for all the problems to be fixed upstream?

According to Wayne Lehman, a County Natural Resource Specialist with the Schuylkill Conservation District, that answer is, no. Pine Grove borough should do flood relief projects that they feel will benefit the borough. Long range solutions, said Lehman, is what the Watershed Long Term Recovery group formed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after last year's flood is all about.

After FEMA left the area, Lehman was given the task of keeping the group together, which consists of representatives of five of the six municipalities in the Pine Grove Area School District.

Representatives of four of the municipalities met September 19 at the Sweet Arrow Lake Park pavilion. Lehman reviewed the projects discussed at the July meeting in detail since three new people were in attendance from Pine Grove borough.

Devil's Hole

The Devil's Hole project in Frailey Township is located west of the village of Donaldson on Route 125. The project consists of removing culm material (coal dirt), and possibly selling it to a Co-Gen plant. The conservation district had made application last month to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for a $20,000 "Walk Up Technical Assistance Grant" which would pay for a preliminary design. Additional funding totaling $150,000 from Growing Greener would also be sought. There is, however, a question of land ownership on a portion of the 40 acre plot which a Department of Environmental Protection mining inspector is looking into. Frailey Township, however, owns more than half of it. If all goes as planned, a flood retention site and possibly a recreational area could be created when the area is cleaned up. If not, only the 20 plus acres owned by Frailey will be done.

According to Lehman, cleaning up the Devil's Hole will have an impact on Tremont. He explained that a previous coal company had straightened out the stream and piled the culm material along its sides, making the bank ten feet higher than it should be. When the water is moving fast, the culm lets loose and travels down to Tremont, and on further down stream to Pine Grove.

Michael's Coal

A project already completed was the planting of 16,500 trees on 27 acres of land west of Tremont on Route 209, across from "Big Lots' Distribution Center, referred to as Michael's Coal North.

Lehman explained three of the acres were planted by volunteers in April, while the remaining acres were planted by a private company, paid for with grants from Rettew Engineering, which has a local office in Schuylkill Haven, and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. Although not immediately, this project will also be of benefit to Tremont.

Frailey Township representative Keith Allar noted he has lived in Donaldson for 39 years and knows the creek. "Until the projects are done in the Donaldson and Tremont area, Pine Grove borough will suffer."

Attending with two other Pine Grove representatives, Tom Fickinger and Lenny Clark, Tony Gurski agreed. Water rolls down hill, said Gurski, but if the borough wants to clean up a stream to help its problem, the borough shouldn't wait until everything upstream is fixed. Lehman agreed.

Pine Grove

A Pine Grove borough project involves 30 acres of land owned by Guilford Mills, located east of their facility. According to Lehman, borough engineer, Heath Machamer of OTM, is heading up the project and felt it would help with the flooding in north Pine Grove.

The group also discussed the old reservoirs in Echo Valley that had been drained with someone questioning whether they heard that the dams were to be restored. Gurski said he had never seen that much damage in Echo Valley and felt something needed to be done to slow down the water coming off the mountain. Fickinger suggested State Rep. Mike Tobash, R-125, be asked to assist in getting a hydraulic study done.

The ACOE (Army Corps of Engineers), said Lehman, has the resources, their models are great, and they can track everything. "We need to see the big picture," said Fickinger. Lehman agreed he would look into it, while Fickinger said he would discuss it with Tobash.

Ravine wetlands

Sediment is again accumulating in the Ravine wetlands, located at Exit 104 of I-81, and again washing down to Pine Grove borough while both the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and PennDOT are trying to determine who is responsible for the project. At the July meeting, Christine Verdier from the office of Sen. Dave Argall, R-29, informed the group that the project was submitted with a flood projects bill, but the bill has not been passed.

Representing the Northern Swatara Creek Watershed Association, Bob Evanchalk noted his concerns that if the culvert at the Ravine wetlands becomes blocked there will be what he described as a 'terrible mess.'

The wetland had been built by the Northern Swatara Creek Watershed Association and DEP some years ago, as part of their effort to clean up acid mine drainage in the area.

Clean-up

Pine Grove Township representative John Stahl reported the clean-up done by the Luzerne/Schuylkill Work Force along the Swatara Creek from the Pine Grove Joint Treatment Authority Sewage Treatment Plant to Swatara Village was a great job. Tires and various junk, he said, is in a pile at the Swatara Village.

Lehman also explained to Fickinger about the removal of debris from a stream. He provided a telephone number of a DEP contact, and suggested the Work Force be called back to help. Stahl also related his experience of obtaining an on-the-spot permit from DEP.

Tremont borough representative Bob Donmoyer related how the county had spent $15,000 to clean out under the Line Street bridge in Tremont borough just last year, and it's the same way again. "But isn't it better to do some of that as a stop gap until you can get the long range projects done?" he asked.

Lehman agreed. "You can go in year after year to clean out, but you need to stop it at its source."

Hire

A discussion was held concerning the hiring of a part-time person to assist the group, an idea presented to the members by SEDCO and Tobash. The cost for a two year period would be shared by the municipalities agreeing to the idea and a $25.000 donation from SEDCO. (The figure mentioned for the municipalities was less than $4,000, but would depend on how many municipalities would sign on.)

Fickinger stated he was not against the idea if the right person could be found, but he had problems with only a two year program. "It's too short a contract," said Fickinger. "At the end (of two years), it'd fall back on us."

Lehman explained the person would assist the municipalities with projects and seek grants. Instead of each municipality doing the leg work, that person would. In addition, said Lehman, "It'd show businesses and residents that we're sincere about working on this problem." And although it was expected that the project that would benefit the most people would be done first, Leman noted that he would not wait to do a downstream project if it was ready to go and upstream wasn't.

"As a borough council, we need to make citizens aware that what is done up stream will help us," said Gurski. "Working together is better."

It was noted that Frank Zukas of SEDCO and Tobash would be holding another meeting with representatives of the municipalities to discuss their proposal. The watershed group also scheduled its next meeting for 5 p.m., November 28.

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