First Posted: 8/8/2013
Fourteen properties in Jenkins Township, damaged or destroyed by the flooding of 2011, were approved to be bought out.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey announced that $1.31 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was awarded for the acquisition and demolition of the damaged structures within the Special Flood Hazard Area in the township.
The properties are all at risk for repeat flooding, Casey said.
The Susquehanna River tore through the Patch section of Port Blanchard, which includes the 14 properties approved to be demolished. The Patch is a set-off village of 30 homes on Tennant, Miller, Jennings streets and is bordered by the Reading and Northern Railroad bed on one side and undeveloped wooded areas on three sides.
All the homes were flooded on the first floor with water reaching the second floor in several. The river tore away foundations, created sink holes and collapsed buildings.
Jim Brozena, the former chairman of the county’s Flood Protection Authority, said this is the sixth and final group of homes that has been approved.
He said he hopes demoliton can begin in the autumn once all the rights to the properties are acquired. He said demolition could be complete by the end of the year.
“Some have received offer letters and we’re moving forward with those,” Brozena said. “Others we’re getting close to being able to provide offer letters. Some we’re waiting for paperwork. We’re doing all the up-front work now.”
The properties will be deed restricted as open space forever and will help to restore the natural functions of the floodplain.
After the flooding, Casey pushed for adequate funds for those impacted.
“Tropical Storm Lee was a major natural disaster that our area is still recovering from,” Casey said in a statement. “These funds will work to ensure that buildings at risk of flooding are not in eye of a future storm.”
Jenkins Township Supervisor Stanley Rovinski said this is the first round of buyouts for the township. He said 65 properties are on the list to be bought out.
Rovinski said there has been a holdup due to obtaining titles and mineral rights.
“Back in the day, the coal companies bought mineral rights underneath the properties,” Rovinski said. “Everything kept changing and it took us six months to sort everything out.”
The Township hired Brozena to help them wade through the paperwork and bureaucracy.
Rovinski said nearly every home will eventually be bought out and demolished. He said there are two or three holdouts, but that’s the decision of the property owners.
Rovinski said there’s no real plan for the land once all of it is acquired by the township. The township already has seven parks and does not need another.
“I’d like to seek a community group come in and put it to use,” he said. “Maybe a community garden or a small golf course.”
One provision is nothing could be constructed on the property.
He said the township would be losing the tax revenue from the properties, but there is a housing boom in the township and the new properties have far made up the difference.
He pointed to Insignia Pointe in Inkerman, Whispering Woods in Westminster, and sections of Wintree Estates off of Saylor Avenue and Highland Hills behind Pittston Area High School.
“We can handle the tax loss,” Rovinski said. “It’s beyond our control and we have to live with it.”
Sixty-seven of the county’s 81 properties set for buyout are located in Jenkins Township.
Brozena has said the current round of buyouts totals 163 Luzerne County properties, with the remaining coming from Conyngham, Plains, Nescopeck and Hunlock townships and Shickshinny Borough.
The price tag in Luzerne County is $14 million and the money is being obligated through Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
FEMA will provide 75 percent of the funding for approved properties, and the state will kick in 22 percent. The remaining 3 percent match may be covered by part of a federal allocation to the county from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development.