More than 60 residents that have property in the West Pittston floodplain face a citation and $579 fine if they don't begin the process of bringing their homes into compliance with
Bill O'Donnell, West Pittston's Floodplain Administrator and code and zoning enforcement officer, said he recently sent out more than 100 letter informing residents of what needs to be done.
Only 40 people responded, he said. Citations will be issued at the end of December into the beginning of January.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency put the town on probation with the National Flood Insurance Program as of Dec. 1. Because of the measure, residents that own property in the floodplain will incur a $50 surcharge when they renew their flood insurance policies. Probation can last a year until the probation is lifted or suspension occurs.
On Sept. 8, 2011, when, in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, the Susquehanna River crested at 44.6 feet and a third of West Pittston was under water. Almost 900 homes and 26 businesses were affected by the floodwaters. Five businesses moved out of town and among the homes 628 experienced basement flooding, 236 first floor flooding and 16 second floor flooding.
FEMA notified the borough in June of flood plain management violations and program deficiencies that required correction by Oct. 1. The probation period was extended in August to Nov. 1, then, a week later, to Dec. 1.
O'Donnell said many homes in the floodplain have been abandoned or gutted. Others are awaiting federal buyouts.
The remaining homes need to prove their utilities have been raised 18 inches above the ‘base flood elevation.'
He said that level varies from house to house and from street to street, but it's generally 558 to 563 feet above sea level.
You need to know where that level is on your house, he said. The borough can't give you a permit until you get that number.
An engineer can provide that number and the borough's engineering firm, Reilly and Associates, is doing group inspections for $125, at a significant discount because they're doing them in groups.
He said FEMA could ultimately suspend individual flood insurance policies for people that are not up to code.
(Residents) could lose their homes if they're not insured, he said. The bank will foreclose if the home isn't insured.
O'Donnell said there was a cascade of miscommunication among public officials and the media that he is trying to rectify.
West Pittston Borough Manager Savino Bonita has said West Pittston has updated its flood plain ordinance and hired a flood plain manager, O'Donnell, as required by FEMA, and some property owners have brought their properties into compliance. But a problem remains with property owners in the 100-year flood plain who repaired their homes, in many cases before the borough was aware it was not compliant, but fail to meet NFIP specifications.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tried to prevent the measure by asking FEMA to recognize the progress that West Pittston has made in updating the flood plan and avoid the $50 surcharge around the holidays.
West Pittston continues to make progress on its flood plan, and it's critical that FEMA recognize that progress and continue to work with the borough as opposed to issuing a fine, Casey said. Flooding is a significant problem in West Pittston and the last thing these residents, who have just recovered from the flood, need is an increase in their flood insurance rates- especially around the holidays.
When new federal floodplain maps came out in November, 133 homes were added to the flood zone, and will have to abide by the new ordinance when flooding occurs again.
West Pittston Council President Barry Hosier informed residents at a recent meeting that West Pittston has done everything to date that they've [FEMA] asked for.
He pointed out that West Pittston has hired personnel and jumped through hoops for FEMA.
West Pittston has 358 flood insurance policies in force with coverage totaling $73,191,100.