Watershed group selects new manager
Published: January 31, 2013
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SWEET ARROW LAKE - The Swatara Watershed Longterm Recovery Committee members have taken a giant step in their effort to decrease flooding in the southern portion of Schuylkill County. A person qualified to lead and assist them in that effort has been found and has made application for the job.
The report of the selection was made at the committee's January 23 meeting, although a public announcement will not be made until the end of January or possibly sometime after the middle of February.
Frank Zukas of SEDCO and State Rep. Mike Tobash, R-125, had brought the idea to the committee several months ago with Zukas offering some financial assistance to help fund the person's salary for two years. Along with that, a contribution of $3,750 would be expected from the five municipalities - Pine Grove and Tremont boroughs, and Pine Grove, Tremont, and Frailey townships - that had been affected by the flooding.
Both men attended the January meeting. Although Rep. Tobash complimented the committee members for the 'good' work they were doing, he stated that resources needed to be added to get the ball rolling. Along with the donation from SEDCO was a similar one from the Schuylkill County Industrial Development Authority (SCIDA) and a $3,750 one from the county commissioners.
"We need to mitigate what we can," said Zukas, adding that Guilford Mills will leave if flooded again. "We need to make them as water tight as possible."
According to the job description formulated by Zukas for the 'Local Recovery Manager's (LRM) position, the person hired will 'provide leadership in coordinating, assessing, developing, and communicating implementation opportunities and strategies related to the community's long-term recovery plan, specifically for the Pine Grove Area/Upper Swatara Watershed Recovery Strategy' which was decided upon as a result of the meetings FEMA had held following the 2011 fall flooding. The manager will work with the committee to pursue grants; identify and coordinate with local, regional, state, and federal partners; as well as identify new activities for the organization.
The position is part-time, 20 hours per week, and if approved as planned, will be under contract with a county agency.
Wayne Lehman, a Schuylkill County Conservation District Natural Resource Specialist, has been leading the group since FEMA completed its work and left the area. He provided an update of several projects.
A 'Growing Greener Grant' application was submitted and is being considered. According to another Conservation District employee, Bill Reichert, $12.4 million is available during this round with the next round to open in June.
If approved, the money will be used to reduce flooding and gravel bar formations in Tremont by removing the upstream sediment source and restoring the floodplain. Approximately 400,000 cubic yards of fine coal and soil will be removed from the stream's bank to allow the stream to overflow its banks onto a 30 acre floodplain. Wetland vegetation will also be planted and the stream channel redesigned. The cost of the Devil's Hole project is estimated between $500,000 and $600,000, and was considered by Reichert to be the biggest contributor to all the area's flooding.
The acid mine drainage ponds at the Ravine I-81 interchange were damaged during the flooding. Lehman reported he had met with personnel from the Bureau of Abandoned Mines who informed him the project is 'moving onto the books'. Two work orders have been made and the work will be done by the Bureau's own crew starting this spring or summer with the spillway repaired first followed by the stabilization of the ponds. It was noted that the treatment upstream has reduced the pollution to the extent that the ponds are no longer needed.
Another project north of Tremont will use the forestry reclamation approach to reduce flooding in the borough, specifically on Spring and North streets. Soil will be loosened in eight-foot wide strips along the contour of the mountain, vegetated ditches will be built, and native hardwood trees planted. Estimates for this project range from $50,000 to $100,000.
A project to eliminate flooding in north Pine Grove involves redesigning the stream channel at Wide Awake Street. FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant money will be used to acquire a potential seven properties and engineering work. The project calls for smoothing out a 90-degree bend as the creek flows around Werner Lumber. No cost was estimated for this project.
Lehman also reported that he continues to work on a plan to enlist the assistance of the Philadelphia Army Corps of Engineers to do a study of the watershed. Although the area is located in the Baltimore District, the Philadelphia District has what he described as a 'pretty high powered model'. In addition, he said, some preliminary information will be required, so a USGS (US Geological Survey) will need to come in first.
Other projects include storm sewer restoration in Pine Grove borough which required an engineering study estimated at $52,500 and a project similar to the completed Michael Coal North where soil was loosened and native hardwoods were planted for Michael Coal South. Both Michael Coal projects will help Tremont and Pine Grove borough, while the completed project one will also help Donaldson, Frailey, Tremont, and Pine Grove townships.
Pine Grove borough engineer Heath Machamer of OTM reported four of the 12 properties in the FEMA 'home buy-out' program have been completed with the remainder scheduled to be completed by the end of January. The borough, he said, will be submitting a plan to the USDA of small projects in various areas of the borough, as well as a request to the DEP for a perpetual stream cleaning permit.
One of Tremont borough's representative, Lane Mack, reported while hunting along I-81 that he had found what he described 'as tons of water' coming off I-81 forming shoulder height gullies. According to Reichert, there are issues like that all along 81 that need to be addressed.
In other business,
- Mack noted that over the past ten years municipalities teaming up and applying together for a grant had a better opportunity of getting it. Reichert agreed, saying that he believes Pine Grove borough and township should join together. They would have better opportunities, he said. Although Tobash did not agree or disagree, he said, "The good news is, they're working together here."
- The next meeting is scheduled for March 20, 5:30 p.m., in the basement of the Sweet Arrow Lake clubhouse.