Pennsylvania State Representative David Millard held a meeting last night with his constituents from the Fernville area. The meeting, which was scheduled to last an hour, ended up going on for nearly two hours with many questions from residents who were angry, unsure about their futures, and concerned about mixed messages from all levels of government. Some felt the meeting itself was poorly communicated and had only heard about it several hours before the start time. In the end, there were few answers, but many promises of help from Rep. Millard.
Millard’s introductory remarks almost instantly turned from the advertised subject of “flood issues” to buy-outs of Fernville residents’ homes. There was a discussion about whether appraised or assessed values would be utilized if a buy-out actually occurs. The officials in attendance from Hemlock Township indicated that the township can decide which value is used.
Representative Millard spoke for about 5 minutes before he opened the floor to questions. Residents were concerned about the idea of fixing up their homes and then having a flood wall be built in that exact area. What would happen then? No one in the room was particularly sure. Later on, someone wondered if their property would be bought out if the flood wall was planned to go through their property. Once again, no definitive answers.
When residents heard that it might be 18 months to 2 years until buy-out checks could be issued, people in the audience expressed intense frustration over being homeless, having mortgages, and waiting for checks. Rep. Millard didn’t necessarily have an answer to this problem, but he did indicate that there are some legislative possibilities, including floating a state bond to help speed up the buy-out process.
The bond, if approved, would be issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order for residents to receive buyouts more quickly, with the money repaid to the Commonwealth with the forthcoming Federal disaster funds. While this bond is being considered, Rep. Millard indicated that the constitutionality of such a bond is in question, and research is being done to see if this issuance of a bond to be paid back with Federal disaster funds is in fact possible.
Rep. Millard promised that he would make public notice if there was action on this matter.
To further complicate matters, there was uncertainty about insurance payments as they relate to potential buy-outs. It was stated that buy-out money received will be deducted from any amount previously received from insurance. Records must be kept of money received and from whom it came.
The meeting broke down several times due to what could only be called general frustration. There was frustration from many people over the slowness of government insurance response and the futility of raising homes above flood level. There was frustration about the flood wall, with residents murmuring, “There will never be a floodwall.” There was frustration about there being no solutions in the past — no buy-outs or no floodwalls — with residents simply left waiting for the next flood.
Rep. Millard was actively attempting to collect information from people about their home values, their addresses and phone numbers, whether they would like to be bought out, and any complaints related to getting the insurance coverage they feel they are due.
The only real answers came when talking about demolition. According to Hemlock Township, if there is a massive buyout, properties will probably be grouped and the township will put out bids for demolition. Frustrated residents began to wonder aloud whether they could pursue a private company for demolition now.
As the meeting concluded, Rep. Millard indicated that he attempted to get FEMA to attend the meeting, but they were unable due to scheduling issues. He did indicate that FEMA has said they will make a presentation to the General Assembly and he will attempt to have them attend future meetings. It was hoped that those meetings will deal specifically with acquisition and shortening the time frame to make that happen.
After one hour and forty-five minutes, the meeting concluded with information changing hands and promises for better future communication.