HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – After passing the Pennsylvania House this summer, a package of bills, that would give municipalities and local landowners more control over waterway improvements, is one step closer to becoming law.
Tuesday, several bills in the package were voted out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and will now head to the Senate floor for a full vote.
The different pieces of legislation hit on several issues like easing permitting requirements, streamlining approval for maintenance projects, and giving township officials and landowners, especially farmers, a better ability to handle flood mitigation in their town or on their property. The package was the result of concerned local officials, farmers, and additional stakeholders throughout the northern tier. Many of whom testified in Harrisburg last spring to share the impact of flooding and their frustration with being unable to prevent it.
With today’s committee approval, lawmakers say they’re headed in the right direction.
“It’s one step closer to bringing about the changes for the meaningful maintenance, that really our community leaders and our township supervisors, our county commissioners, local officials, need to be able to do to protect lives and livelihoods,” said Representative Clint Owlett (R-Bradford/Tioga/Potter).
Owlett is the sponsor of House Bill 2404, one of the bills approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee this morning. HB 2404 provides continuing maintenance permits for a period of at least ten years for the streams within a local government’s jurisdiction.
“We know that this is important to the community. We know that people in our district want this and we’re going to continue to work towards it,” said Owlett.
Despite making it out of committee, some of the bills faced opposition from Democrats, including HB 2404.
“I will be voting no on House Bill 2404, the DEP already provides clear guidance to municipalities, communities and residents on when activities need, or do not need, DEP approval,” said Senator Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Democratic Chair of the committee.
Regardless, Owlett says the bills are critical to maintain good water quality and ensure farmers and local officials across the state can protect their land, infrastructure and more.
“We can save these structures and save, as taxpayers, a significant amount of money. This isn’t just a Tioga County problem or a Lycoming County problem or a Bradford County problem. This is all across the Commonwealth,” said Owlett.
HB 2405, sponsored by Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna) was among the other bills that made it out of the committee. HB 2405 would create a program for counties to address hazards by allowing for emergency maintenance permits in consultation with a county conservation district.
The two others include HB 2406, which would create a permit specific to smaller maintenance projects for the mitigation of flood-related hazards less than 250 linear feet; and HB 2407 which removes any authority of the PA Fish and Boat Commission related to permitting or enforcement of stream clearing or maintenance activities.
With only four more session days for the Senate before the end of the 2021-2022 session, Owlett says he and the other bill sponsors hope the legislation receives a full vote quickly. If not, he’s prepared to keep pushing next session.
“We’ve been working at this for over a year. I know it seems like a long time, but nothing happens very quickly here in Harrisburg. But we’re not giving up and we’re going to keep pushing. If it doesn’t happen, this session, we’ll reintroduce them again next session,” said Owlett.
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