HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Monday, county officials and farmers from the northern tier testified at the State Capitol in a House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing about the impact of flooding.
Last month, a package of bills seeking to give local landowners and local governments more control over waterway improvements was announced by lawmakers from the northern tier and central Pennsylvania.
The package of bills was the topic for today’s committee hearing. The legislative package currently awaits committee approval before it can be taken up for a vote on the House floor.
Testimony this morning pointed to the positive impact the bills could have statewide, especially in rural communities.
“Stream degradation in our Commonwealth is an ongoing thing and has been for decades now, and the costs of doing nothing, quite frankly, are exponentially too high,” said Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller. “We’re filling up our streams with gravel, with silt with sediment, which then the streams tend to re-channelize themselves in different areas, which then compromise other infrastructure,” said Miller, who also serves as President of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
Miller, and others who testified, told stories of costly infrastructure improvements as a result of flooding, and the long durations they had to wait to see those repairs.
“I think it’s more getting back to a common-sense approach so that we can fix the things that we can fix,” said John “Johnny” Painter, a third-generation dairy farmer from Tioga County. “It’s heartbreaking when something that we could fix very easily with a little bit of common sense and a little bit of elbow grease, we’re not allowed to do it and we watch our topsoil be washed down the creek,” he added.
Painter, who also represents district five on the State Board of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, testified to the challenges he and his family have faced, and continue to face, when trying to protect their farm and livelihood. He says being able to protect top soil from being swept downstream is extremely important, but he, like many farmers in Pennsylvania, are limited to what they can do for waterway improvements without obtaining permits or approval from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“For every farm, whether you’re a dairy farmer, beef farmer, or crop farmer, your land is your legacy,” said Painter. “Topsoil is what we grow everything on, whether we’re selling a crop or we’re growing grass to raise protein. Topsoil and erosion are very important to farmers, conservation is very important to farmers,” said Painter.
Painter says if top soil is swept into a creek or stream, it creates water quality issues, not just in local creeks, but all the bodies of water downstream.
“We’re all working towards the future, we’re trying to save the environment for the next generation,” said Painter. “Everybody’s trying to make a living. I think the message is that we all want to work together and get along and we just want to make it easier for everybody to do so,” he added.
Farmers aren’t the only ones facing barriers when trying to make waterway improvements. Local governments are as well.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Delmar Township Supervisor Deven Martin.
The degradation and flooding of streams can be costly for municipalities, and frustrating for local officials like Martin, especially if the issue is preventable.
“The most frustrating is when we know there’s going to be an issue that we could have prevented, but we weren’t able to be proactive and we have to wait until something happens and then deal with the damage after,” said Martin.
Martin says waiting for permits and approval from DEP, in many cases, is creating roadblocks.
“From a time perspective, everything takes too long. We’d like to see the permitting process and the response time from DEP be a lot quicker, so that we can manage these things just in a better and more timely manner,” said Martin.
All who testified today said it’s important to start having conversations that can make a difference.
“The more people talk about it when there’s a discussion, good things will happen,” said Phil Wood, a beef farmer in Tioga County.
“Let’s collectively look at ways that we arrive at the conclusion that we achieve an outcome that the public is looking for and that the municipal governments can do their job and do it in a timely manner,” said Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge. “Let’s make sure the conversation is more than just an exchange, but an outcome,” he added.
Representative Clint Owlett (R-Bradford/Tioga/Potter) believes they’re one step closer to an outcome after today’s hearing.
“I want to thank everybody that came down from the district today to testify and to really bring life stories, faces and names to the situations that we’ve been hearing about all across the district,” said Owlett. “When you can put a name and a face to an issue, it’s very impactful for a legislator. So, for them to come down and be able to tell those stories, it really does make a difference when it comes to voting on this,” Owlett added.