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Scranton has close-call with FEMA over dyke

January 15, 2016


Pioneer Editor

The Scranton City Council was able to take a breath following its meeting Monday night. What was initially thought to be a requirement for the city to fund a multi-million-dollar reconstruction of its dyke turned out to be only a little more than the addition of a simple ordinance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently imposed new regulations regarding dykes nationwide. According to Scranton City Auditor Kari Ruggles, the city received information that the surrounding dyke would have to meet new criteria.

“They’re saying that our dyke is inadequate and doesn’t meet their specifications,” Ruggles said Monday afternoon, prior to the city council’s further review of the matter.

A creek spanning several miles through Scranton crossing the city’s golf course and through the town on the southwest edge used to flood and would wreak havoc on the town. In the 1950s, said Ruggles, a dyke was constructed and the town hasn’t flooded since.

But FEMA, after changing its regulations, cited that Scranton’s dyke wasn’t high enough. Consequently, Scranton would be forced to build up the dyke at its own cost.

Ruggles said the council met previously with representatives from FEMA to explain that the dyke has not caused problems. The city maintains it and it hasn’t caused any problems for residents.

Building up the dyke would cost millions of dollars and would have several negative effects on the city, including properties surrounding the dyke. “There are houses in the way,” Ruggles said. “When you build it higher, it comes out further.”

It would’ve caused a massive headache for the city and its residents.

But Scranton was offered a reprieve during its Monday night regular meeting, when the councilors delved further into FEMA’s requirements.

“(It’s) not going to be as big a deal as we thought, I think,” Ruggles said Tuesday.

FEMA had re-evaluated the dyke and were simply afraid it wouldn’t hold a drastic flood. However, instead of forcing the city to pay millions of dollars — a nearly unfeasible request — it was found the city would merely have to adopt an ordinance that specifies neither FEMA nor the city could be held responsible if the dyke doesn’t hold. But since the dyke hasn’t had a problem in the last five decades, it was a reasonable stipulation.

The only change that could potentially affect residents near the creek would be those within the city’s flood plain, which covers about one-quarter of the city.

FEMA’s new regulations do not allow building in the flood plain unless it is two feet about flood level.

Ruggles admitted that the new regulations are complicated.

“There’s existing houses that have been there for a long time, if they were ever wanting to add-on or build new, they’d face more restrictions,” she said.

Though, she assured things wouldn’t change much except for the establishment of additional building codes.

“Anything that’s existing – if they have their house paid off, it’s not really going to change anything for that,” she said.

But if somebody owns a home in the flood plain and they have a mortgage, their flood insurance would be affected.

“How much? We don’t know,” she said. “That would be up to their insurance company.”