JENKINS TWP. — It was known as Port Blanchard and “The Patch.”
Fifty occupied homes sat in that quiet neighborhood on a fateful weekend in September 2011 — the weekend that changed the layout of Jenkins Township.
In the aftermath of the Tropical Storm Lee flood on Sept. 8 and 9, 2011, which wreaked havoc on communities along the Susquehanna River, many homeowners took federal buyouts to have their houses demolished and their municipalities take over the land on which those houses once stood.
In Jenkins Township, much of that came true. Now, the township is working on receiving federal grants to create a recreation area between Market and Tennant streets. So far, more than 40 homes have been razed with at least seven more to follow.
Jenkins Township Manager Robert Jones said the recreation area may feature walking paths, small soccer fields and other amenities. Currently, the township is working on submissions to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and applying for grant money to get things started.
“We’re hoping to get a few more houses down and hear from DCNR for grant money,” Jones said. “That’s where things stand.”
Wyoming Area Secondary Center Principal Vito Quaglia lived at the house at 1487 River Road from 2001 to 2014. His house sat just off Market Street and in 2004, 2006 and in 2011, his home was ravaged by flood waters. Each time, however, the family rebuilt and moved on. In April 2014, the buyout came through for the Quaglias and the family moved elsewhere.
Two weeks ago, Quaglia watched his home being torn down.
“It was bittersweet,” he said. “We’ve been flooded three times. Knowing that we overcame and rebuilt the house, it was frustrating seeing it being torn down. Ultimately, it was closing a chapter and we can move on with our life.”
Quaglia said in 2011 there were nearly eight feet of flood waters on the first floor of the house. He questions how the township will carry out plans to create a recreation area where the houses once stood.
“Eventually, there will probably be another flood,” he said. “But to have three of them like that in a 10-year span, that’s really all you can do.”
Since the flood, most of the residents have stayed in the Greater Pittston area, including Quaglia who now lives in Duryea. Some older couples, however, continue to hold out in the Patch section on Miller and Jennings streets.
The portion the township hopes to repurpose is from three properties between Market Street and Tennant Street, adjacent to the Eighth Street Bridge. The township does not plan to profit on the area. Instead, Jones hopes it turns into a place for the community to gather.
If the plan works out, Jones expects to see the area holding flea markets and farmers markets throughout the summer. He also believes the fields will be great for soccer or field hockey practice.
“I think it will be good for the township,” he said. “We’re not looking to make money. We just want to contribute this to the community.”