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UDC debates hurricanes, floodplains and wetlands

November 7, 2012

Many homes and businesses were still without power in some Upper Delaware River towns following Hurricane Sandy’s visit to the region last week when the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) met on November 1 after power was restored in Narrowsburg.

With the impacts of the hurricane fresh in everyone’s awareness, the subject of floodplain regulation came up. Prompted in part by a recent presentation from the Wayne Conservation District about Pennsylvania’s new floodplain regulations, the discussion revolved around issues related to wetlands.

“At the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest, I’m curious if this has to do with land use, and what determines wetlands for the state of Pennsylvania,” said Town of Deerpark, NY representative David Dean.

Berlin Township, PA representative Alan Henry, who spent many years in law enforcement with the National Park Service (NPS), offered his perspective. “You can build in a floodplain, but not in a floodway,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, we were always amazed that people would be dumb enough to put a house in an area that we had seen flood on the Delaware because most of our ancestors were bright enough not to put them there. But the state would approve it, as long as it wasn’t in the floodway.”

Dean said he believes wetland designations are being expanded in both New York and Pennsylvania and that he is concerned about this development. “The use is being taken away from the people who are paying taxes on the ground,” he said.

Dean then told new UDC resource specialist Travis O’Dell that he should be on the lookout for information related to this issue. “I’m going to be looking to you to see who is taking control over private property,” he said. “I’ll be very blunt about it.”

Town of Tusten, NY representative Susan Sullivan pointed out that wetlands help to minimize flooding and could reduce the types of catastrophic events that resulted from the recent hurricane. “The function of wetlands is incredibly important and it should dictate land use,” said Sullivan. “Back in the day when people didn’t have government or insurance companies to clean up for them, they didn’t build in these places.”

“One of the things that we might all bear in mind is what happened this past week, and whether it was advisable for some places to be built where they were built in the first place,” said Carla Hahn, management assistant at the NPS Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.