Tempers and emotions continue to run high over the $2,435,000 in state grant money that has been earmarked to buy out certain flood-damaged properties in Meshoppen Borough.
Bob Pitcavage of Dymond Terrace, Eaton Township, asked the Wyoming County Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday, if they would fulfill his request to supply him with information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency concerning the application process filed as a result of the flood that occurred in Wyoming County in 2011.
When Commissioner Tom Henry said the information had been supplied, Pitcavage said he wanted the information concerning FEMA, not PEMA, which is the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Citing figures going back to November 2011 of the application process, Pitcavage said he and other property owners in Wyoming County had been informed that they could be eligible for government relief money when Phase II of the application process was approved. He said inquires were made at various times through the years, until he was informed in March 2015 that Wyoming County had never applied for money from FEMA for flood relief.
In response, Emergency Management Coordinator Gene Dziak informed Pitcavage that Wyoming County must apply to PEMA for the flood relief money. Although FEMA can provide Pennsylvania with money in such circumstances, it is PEMA which administers the funds.
Dziak also produced documentation during the meeting, informing Pitcavage that it was his application along with supporting documents which he had made following the 2011 flood for compensation. The director said the application had been properly processed in a timely manner.
Controversy has surrounded the situation since the commissioners announced in March that 14 properties in Meshoppen Borough are eligible for flood buyout from Community Development Block Grant in Disaster Recovery Funding. Many residents throughout Wyoming County - particularly Forkston Township and Eaton Township - whose properties were damaged in the flood Meshoppen have questioned why they are considered ineligible.
Dziak explained during the meeting that - according to information provided in the grant - only Meshoppen Borough and Nicholson Borough met the criteria. Nicholson Borough is out, he said, because no applications were made for flood relief.
Dziak said the criteria is that the community must be considered low to moderate income, according to information obtained from the 2010 Census.
When it was pointed out during the meeting that the income of the owners of many of Meshoppen properties is higher, Dziak explained that the criteria is applied to the community, not to individual property owners.
Earlier, The Examiner contacted Ruth Miller, a media representative from PEMA, about the situation. In response to the question about using the 2010 Census as the criteria, Miller explained:
“The 2010 Census data is the best available data to determine the required economic demographics. Since the census is only collected every 10 years, we must use the best available data that can be attainable.”
Pitcavage continued to complain that many of the 14 properties - located primarily along Church Street in Meshoppen - are rentals, whose owners “who have no skin in the game” concerning the community. He also wondered why a mobile home was considered eligible for the buyout plan. Dziak told him that particular property has been struck from the list.
Joanne Price of Forkston Township, whose property sustained flood damage, wondered what criteria had been used to determine eligibility. She pointed out that in two of the Meshoppen properties in question, the flood waters did not raise higher than the basement. She said the county should investigate further into the matter.
Henry explained that the commissioners have contacted state Rep. Karen Boback, state Sen. Lisa Baker, and other lawmakers in an attempt to have them meet with the public in order to provide information concerning the situation. Although they have received responses, Henry said, no commitments have been made at this time.
Dziak explained that the buyout process is still in its early stages, and not every property owner is expected to sell. Any money left over could be distributed to other property owners who experienced flood damage.
When Price pointed out that there is a possibility the money could simply be sent back to Harrisburg, Dziak said he would definitely opposed such a move.
As he had done during the last commissioners’ meeting, Henry recommended that people contact Steven Bekanich of the PEMA Bureau of Resources and Litigation, in the hopes he would provide information concerning the situation.
In other business, the commissioners announced that Wyoming County Dispatchers Tim Herron and Tim McCoy were named Telecommunicators of the Year on April 4 by the Pennsylvania Chapter of APCO International, for their outstanding performances in the handling of a warehouse fire at Procter and Gamble on Jan. 17.
“This was a three-alarm fire involving six counties and 45 pieces of fire apparatus,” according to information inscribed on a plaque presented to the Herron and McCoy. “Both Telecommunicators displayed professionalism and determination while simultaneously handling this major incident and other 9-11 business.”
In a related matter, the commissioners issued a proclamation, declaring April 9 to 15 as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, recognizing the vital services that the emergency dispatchers provide to the area.
Also, the commissioners:
*Appointed Roger Hadsell to the Planning Commission.
*Voted to approve the hiring of Corey Kucker as a full-time corrections officer.
*Voted to approve the hiring of Stephen Klingus as a full-time cook at the jail.