FEMA Working to Deliver Trailers

Slightly over two months have passed since the historic flooding of Tropical Storm Lee pounded the Bloomsburg area. In the wake of the disaster, the need to find homes for hundreds of displaced people has taken center stage. The number of rental properties and existing homes for sale pales in comparison to the overall need. FEMA has been working in 14 hour shifts to be ready in time for Thanksgiving at Stony Brook Circle near Lightstreet. The long awaited trailers will allow flood victims who qualify to live in them rent-free for up to 18 months. That is very welcomed news as the holidays approach. FEMA is reportedly placing 20 of the trailers. William Todd Heiss set out today to see the progress for himself and shares the images below.

Mayor and Town Representatives Show Strong Front in D.C.

On Wednesday, November 2nd, Mayor Dan Knorr, members of the Bloomsburg Town Council, the Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority, the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce, Rieter Automotive, Windsor Foods, the Bloomsburg Fair Association and the Columbia County Commissioners met with US Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Lou Barletta, and staff from Senator Pat Toomey’s office to discuss federal government support for floodwall protection along the Susquehanna River and lower Fishing Creek.

Ostensibly what appeared to be yet another in a long series of meetings with federal government representatives and officials, instead presented a strong, united front of local government, business, and community leaders. Local representatives traveled to Washington to impress the common goal of preserving local industry and jobs, and sparing the residents of Bloomsburg yet another devastating experience.

Speaking of the importance of bringing community leaders together for a face to face meeting with federal legislators, Mayor Knorr stated “They have a lot of issues [to deal with]. They’re physically removed in DC and we wanted to be sure they knew what is a priority for us.”

“They were impressed at the broad range of cooperation, and that made a difference to them. Seeing them eye to eye, that we’re all on the same page, that was a primary purpose of this meeting.”

Council Member Diane Levan agreed. “They were amazed at how everyone had come together on this,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it took this disaster, but they welcomed us, listened, were very concerned with our priorities and met with us in good faith.”

In addition to the unified front and goodwill felt at the meeting, both Mayor Knorr and Council Member Levan emphasized the specifics of what help Bloomsburg needed from the federal government. In particular this means a new Cost-Benefit analysis performed by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine to what extent, or if, the federal government would provide funding for the floodwall project.

“We know that [money] is tight at the federal level,” said Mayor Knorr. “This doesn’t mean projects aren’t happening, but they need to be prioritized.”

Although Senator Toomey was unable to attend this meeting in person due to commitments on the US Congressional Budgetary Supercommittee, sending instead members of his legislative staff, the Senator has already sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking them to complete a new Cost-Benefit analysis for Bloomsburg in light of the recent flooding. The Senator’s letter identified the new analysis as “imperative” and “vitally important.”

The common front presented by community leaders, and their insistence on a specific course of federal action is already seeming to have an effect. Both Mayor Knorr and Council Member Levan expect the Army Corps of Engineers to begin their new analysis by the end of the year, possibly within the month.

“We also got commitment for follow up with [the Senators, Congressman, and their staffs] by the end of 2011,” said Mayor Knorr. “If not a new meeting with the representatives directly, then either a conference call or a meeting with their staff in Bloomsburg by the end of the year.”

“We can give millions to other countries when there are floods,” said Council Member Levan. “But manufacturing jobs are hard to come by. It’s going to take some meaningful effort to help the people in our own town who have gone through so much.”

Flood Help and Events

Julie Kuntz Klingerman is the adminstrator of the Helping Neighbors – Bloomsburg Flood 2011 Facebook group.  She will be helping us compile flood-related help and events.

The “Turn the Page” book drive is in full swing at the Columbia Mall near Dunham’s.  Over 30,000 books are available for children of all ages who have lost their libraries.  The books are being handed out for free, and children of all ages may choose up to a dozen books.  The hours are:

 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – Closed
Thursday – 4:00 – 7:00
Friday – 4:00 – 7:00
Saturday – 1:00 – 7:00
Sunday – 1:00 – 5:00

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AGAPE still needs volunteers as the continually changing needs of the community evolve.  Specifically, help is needed:

  • at the information desk on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p. m. answering the phone, handing out applications, and filling supplies requests.
  • at the storehouse to lift, load and unload store donations, sort clothing, and help fill supply requests from the information desk
  • at Freedom Hall at the fairgrounds to load and unload furniture on Monday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • for Flood Survivor Recovery Assistance as experienced caseworkers or those willing to be trained
  • for skilled dry-wallers, licensed electricians and licensed plumbers

AGAPE may be contacted at 317-2210 or at agaperelief@gmail.com

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The Bloomsburg Area YMCA will be hosting a ZUMBA party November 5th from 4 – 6 p.m. to raise money for AGAPE.  Admission is $10; free for AGAPE volunteers with badge.  Zumba-wear t-shirts are available for $10, with all proceeds benefitting AGAPE as well.

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The Catawissa Christian Church, 102 Main Street is offering clothing, some furniture, large and small appliances, toys, pet supplies, and a variety of food and household items to flood victims on Saturday, November 5th from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.  *No FEMA numbers required, no questions asked.*  The church is also accepting donations that may be dropped off outside the door of the church on Monday-Friday from 4:30 – 9:00 p.m.  Needed:  men’s, women’s,  and children’s clothing, especially for winter, canned goods, bedding, towels, dishes, Christmas decorations, pet supplies, books, and small appliances.  To donate furniture, please call ahead: Coleen, 594-2750, Maureen, 441-2749 or Sue, 356-2364.

Julie Kuntz Klingerman for The Bloomsburg Daily

The View from Here: A New Day at Magic Carpet Preschool

Yesterday we talked about the extensive flood damage at the Magic Carpet Preschool and the extraordinary lengths teachers, parents, alumni, and friends went to rebuild and restock supplies at the school.  Well, today is a happy day:  Students showed up this morning for their first day back to the Barton Street location.  Our photographer, Bob Rush, was on the scene to see the smiling faces and happy reunions in  the beautifully refurbished school.  We are sure there are going to be many new preschool memories made with Miss Penny and her staff.  And looking at the photos of the children in their once nearly destroyed school leaves us all with only one word:  hope.

Sen. Toomey Sends Letter to Army Corps about Bloomsburg Flood Wall

According to a press release from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey‘s (R-Pa.) office, the senator sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today urging the Corps to conduct a new cost/benefit analysis for the Bloomsburg flood wall project.  The release states:

A new analysis could improve the chances that this project will receive federal funding.  The town of Bloomsburg has been waiting for the construction of a flood wall since Congress first approved the project in the 1990s. The Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority estimates that damage to Bloomsburg’s two major employers from this year’s flood may cost as much as $100 million. In the letter, Sen. Toomey writes that a new analysis is needed in light of floods in 2004, 2006 and 2011 to evaluate the true benefit cost ratio of building the Bloomsburg flood wall.

In addition, Senator Toomey wrote a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew in June. To read the full text of that letter, please click here.

The full text of Senator Toomey’s letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available here.   It is also reprinted with permission from Senator Toomey’s office below.

____________________________________

Col. Dave Anderson
Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District
City Crescent Building
10 S. Howard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201

Dear Col. Anderson,

In light of the unprecedented damage caused by this year’s flooding in Bloomsburg, it is imperative that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) complete a new benefit cost analysis for the proposed floodwall project.

Plenty of new information exists regarding the costs to the town and people of Bloomsburg when Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River flood. The Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority estimates that damage to Bloomsburg’s two major employers from this year’s past flood may approach $100 million. Additionally, it is my understanding that data regarding the town’s flooding in 2004 and 2006 were not used to update the USACE benefit cost analysis.

I understand that past analyses suggest that the project fails to meet the minimum ratio of benefits to costs as required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be included in the administration’s budget request. However, new information from the various floods that have occurred since the last analysis should be used to give the most accurate description of the project’s merits.

Furthermore, it is vitally important that USACE conducts this study as soon as possible. With these considerations in mind, I respectfully submit the following questions:

1. Is it the view of the USACE Baltimore District that the benefit cost analysis for the Bloomsburg floodwall should be updated? If not, can you please outline the benefit and cost assumptions used in the current estimate?

2. If the USACE Baltimore District believes a new analysis is necessary as well, is it possible to complete the study in advance of the Fiscal Year 2013 budgeting process?

Thank you for your consideration. Please keep my office fully apprised of the developments of this project as they move forward.

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey
United States Senator

Donors Help Magic Carpet Preschool Get Back to Barton Street

When Penny Pomfret, director of Magic Carpet Preschool in Bloomsburg, dismissed her students early on September 7th from their Barton Street location, she was thinking about flooding but was focusing on the potential for losses in the school’s basement. “I did not realize how destructive the flood would be until I woke up Thursday morning after it had already happened. We went to bed Wednesday evening believing [the river] would crest at 28 feet, much less than Agnes.”  Because the school’s current location was not flooded during Agnes, the main concerns were water in the basement and the potential loss of the furnace or hot water heater.  After the river and Fishing Creek hit record levels, the reality of the damage was devastating.

The basement was inundated and even the classrooms on the main floor had approximately a foot of water.  The majority of all classroom materials, toys, books, furniture, and supplies were lost.   The school was closed for seven days and was forced to relocate to the Wesley United Methodist Church, which generously provided space to both Magic Carpet Preschool and the Columbia County Child Development Program.  According to Pomfret, “Parents, children, and teachers adapted well to our new surroundings and the people at the church have been most kind and welcoming to us. Pastor Jay Jones even let us store our salvageable belongings in his garage!”

And even though the mission of the school is to facilitate learning for 3-5 year olds with a hands-on problem solving approach, no one was prepared for the amount of “hands on” and “problem solving” that they would all have to engage in.   The facility would need to be gutted and essentially rebuilt.  And because the school was founded in 1973, nearly 40 years of acquired learning materials were lost.

But Pomfret says the network of people who were concerned about Magic Carpet Preschool instantly stepped up to help with the rebuilding process, “In the days following the flood, there was a huge outpouring of support from alumni, parents, and friends on various Facebook sites. It was heartwarming and firmed up my commitment to continue the school.  Many alums, parents, friends, and people who heard about the school have sent contributions, toys, and supplies.”

Two such people were Sue Van Kirk and Tricia Cossick, both of State College, who found out about the disastrous flooding primarily through Facebook.  Van Kirk grew up in Harrisburg where river levels were often talked about.  In addition, her parents were from Mt. Carmel and her mother and grandmother both have degrees from Bloomsburg University.  She talked with her own daughters and her Brownie Troop about the losses and the children instantly wanted to do something.  “The kids were saying things like, ‘I feel really bad for the children who lost everything in the flooding.  They don’t have any toys. Can we do something?'”  Van Kirk sent an email to troop parents and they gathered items at their next two meetings.  In the end, 7 girls collected over 100 items for the school:  a dollhouse, a princess pop-up tent, puzzles, books, art supplies, and more.  According to Van Kirk, who hand delivered the donations to Pomfret, “Even I was surprised and touched by the generosity.”

Tricia Cossick also learned about the severity of the flooding through Facebook.  Cossick is the Director of OCC Montessori Preschool, so she was instantly sympathetic to a preschool losing nearly everything they owned. “When I heard that a longstanding quality preschool program had been swept away in flood waters, I felt like I wanted to do something to make a difference.”  Cossick is now in contact with the parents from her school, as well as other State College preschools in order to collect gently-used preschool furniture, educational toys, and books to donate to Magic Carpet, as well as other affected preschools in the area.  She is currently storing the items and will deliver them to Bloomsburg when the collection is complete.

While Pomfret had some hesitation about reinvesting in the current location, she feels a commitment to the preschool children and their families.  “No one can predict the future.  Right now we are concentrating on getting Magic Carpet up and running at Barton Street.”

Apparently that concentration has paid off.  Pomfret now reports that the Barton Street location of Magic Carpet will be re-opened to students on Thursday, November 3rd.  Pomfret is amazed, “The outpouring of support has been unbelievable!”

Magic Carpet Preschool can be contacted at 570-784-9282 .  The Columbia County Child Development Program can be contacted at 570-784-8618.

(Full disclosure:  Kristin Zeisloft Camplese is an alumna of Magic Carpet Preschool)

Time is Running Out – Only Two Weeks Left to Register for Disaster Aid

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Survivors of the storms and flooding that ravaged central and eastern Pennsylvania have only two weeks left to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster assistance. The deadline to register is November 14, 2011.

Individuals who live, work, or own a business in the 29 Pennsylvania counties designated under the disaster declarations for Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee are eligible. The counties are Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming, and York.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and FEMA urge those who sustained disaster-related losses to register by the deadline, even if they are unsure of their eligibility.

November 14 is also the deadline to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan. For information about SBA loan applications, visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance or call the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955. Those with speech or hearing difficulties may dial 1-800-877-8339. Loan application forms can also be downloaded from www.sba.gov.

There are four ways to register with FEMA:

  1. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Operators assist callers seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Help is available in most languages. If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585.
  2. Register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  3. Register using a tablet or smartphone by visiting m.fema.gov.
  4. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.

If you have a disability and need help registering, please contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 and ask for assistance.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status.  If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 1-800-462-7585.

Article Courtesy of FEMA

 

It’s Your Turn: Santa Needs Our Help

It is the first day of November and many thoughts are now turning to the holidays.  Flood victims are the primary concern as the holidays can be a difficult time for those who have suffered major losses.  One victim who no one has been talking about, however, is Santa Claus.  Unfortunately, when the flood waters came, even his cottage wasn’t spared.  Stored at the Public Works building in Bloomsburg, it incurred significant damage and is currently being repaired by those in the Public Works Department.

We talked with Tim Wagner from Downtown Bloomsburg Inc. (DBI, which runs the cottage) and he indicated that about two feet of water got into the cottage. With such extensive destruction in the town, no one’s thoughts quickly went to the cottage, but recently Public Works Superintendent John Barton went into to take a look and found the damage.  The drywall, wiring, and carpet had to be pulled out and according to Wagner, “Santa’s cottage looks like most houses in Bloomsburg right now.”

Bloomsburg Carpet donated carpet for the interior and work is being done to install the new drywall, put in the carpet, and do some last minute painting.  But Wagner said that “when we started thinking about all of the stuff in there that made it ‘homey,’ things started adding up.”  The following items are needed:  Santa’s chair, an ottoman, 1 or 2 end tables, a small desk, a framed mirror, and a 2 foot or 4 foot baseboard electric heating unit.  While not entirely necessary, Wagner indicated that these items really make it feel like a cottage when children arrive.

And Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. and the Town of Bloomsburg are under a strict deadline as the repairs need to be completed by the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 22nd or 23rd), so it is ready for WHLM’s Parade of Lights on Friday, November 25th.  Wagner is confident though. “It will get done and there will be a Santa’s Cottage.  It’s just not acceptable to not have it.”

If you would like to make a donation or purchase an item to help Santa and the town out, please contact Tim Wagner at Wagner’s Trophies at 570-784-6025.  Donations are tax-deductible.   In addition, the DBI is looking for a tree donation for next to the cottage.  If you have one that you might be willing to part with, please contact the town or Mr. Wagner.

Photo by corsi photo

 

Run to Rebuild 5K to Benefit Flood Victims

When Ginny Larson and Brooke Wilson met as graduate students in the Student Affairs program at Bloomsburg University, they had very little idea that they would eventually work together to become disaster recovery organizers.  Larson, a Bloomsburg native, 2004 graduate of Central Columbia High School, and 2008 graduate of Bloomsburg University, was drawn back to town for her masters degree for this simple reason:  “I love the area.”  Wilson, a native of Rockport, Massacusetts, discovered Bloomsburg when she decided to pursue her masters and received a graduate assistantship in the Sports Information office at BU.

Both, however, were incredibly affected by the flooding and destruction they witnessed following Tropical Storm Lee.  Larson, who has called the area home since she was 8 years old, said,  “I was devastated. I know we have had  flooding problems in the past but once I was able to drive downtown and see the destruction, I cried so much I could barely even drive. [This town is] a part of me and who I am. Seeing it demolished was heartbreaking, and I was one of the lucky ones not harmed.”  Wilson compared what she saw in Bloomsburg to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

When the two returned to campus after the flood closure, they instantly knew they had to help.  Wilson said, “I knew I needed to plan something that would be a big event to help those in need even if it would be months later. Many people seem to forget that families and people had lost so much and that they still are in need of help, although the damage my not be seen it is still there.” Several of their peers in the Counseling and Student Affairs program were affected and forced to relocate, which made the destruction all the more personal.  According to Larson, “Although many of us will never forget what happened, we wanted to do something that showed we hadn’t forgotten, symbolize community support, yet was uplifting and fun. That is how the Run to Rebuild 5k walk/run was born.”

After working with their program advisor, Mark Bauman, and Jean Downing, the Director of the SOLVE office, the idea began to take off.  Larson and Wilson are working with the Bloomsburg University’s Student Veterans Assocation to hold the event, and have received extensive support from the Bloomsburg YMCA, the SOLVE office, and multiple fraternities and sororities.  All proceeds will be donated to the Columbia County Volunteer Organization for Disaster Relief. “The event was organized in such a small amount of time, but we hope to have a great turn out to show the community we are here for them,” said Larson.

The Run to Rebuild 5K will be held Saturday, November 12 from 8:00am – 11:00am.  The race will begin at 8 AM and runners and walkers are welcome. Registration will be held from 6:30-7:45 AM at the Bloomsburg YMCA.  The cost is $5 for students, $10 for pre-registration ($15 on day of the race), and $50 for a group of 10 OR MORE.  The entry form and more details can be found here.

According to Larson, it should be a full day of community events, “Following the race, the Veteran’s Day parade is being held in downtown Bloomsburg. In addition, at 1:00 pm Bloomsburg University’s last home football game against Lock Haven will be taking place. If you bring your race bib, you will even get half off your football ticket!”

For more information or to join their community, go to Run to Rebuild 5K on Facebook.




Update: Due to the response from the community, we are kicking off The Bloomsburg Daily Charity Challenge.

Your Thoughts: Building Permit Fees for Flood Victims

The Town Council meeting last night was not the only place where the issue of building permit fees for flood victims was discussed.  Our article commenters and Facebook groups have contributed many interesting and thought-provoking viewpoints on the subject.  (Original article, Building Permit Fees Cause Lively Town Council Debate).  Add your comments here if you haven’t had a chance to weigh in on the discussion.

Here are some of the opinions of our readers:

This is a very sticky situation. Could they possibly reduce the fees for flood victims? — Diane

Building permits cover the cost of a building inspector checking to make sure work is in code. This protects the property owner from shabby work from a contractor and people who purchase the house in the future. It’s part of owning a property. BUT, have you ever heard of a building inspector really doing a thorough job? It’s a joke. If He or she shows up, they talk to the contractor for a few minutes and leave. Things have to be pretty bad for him to stop the work and demand repairs. I can’t see a person who has $15,000 in flood repairs paying $150.00 in what is just ultimately a tax. I don’t know how many inspectors Bloomsburg has but lets guess 2. How can two people get around to every flooded home in Bloomsburg at the different stages the contractor needs him to inspect? He can’t, so why charge the people a fee for a service you can’t provide? — Ethan

We waived the fee for flood properties only in Hemlock Twp. for one year … if they rebuild they must rebuilt to the current flood zoning. — Rob

It will be interesting to see if FEMA money will be allocated to the town. I believe it is imperative to the town’s recovery. If the town were to receive some aid it would have more flexibilty to waive certain costs to property owners like building permit fees. Raising local taxes (flood tax) or placing the burden on individuals affected by this disaster may be unavoidable if the town doesn’t receive federal or state aid. — Michael

I’m sure a lot of the property owners have flood insurance which would pay for permitting costs and if they did I dont think it would be fair to push these costs to tax payers. I felt the same way with all disposal fees. However if some were on fixed incomes with no insurance then reduced costs would be fine. — Lee

Some folks have insurance, some do not either way I believe fees should be reduced for everyone to be fair. A lot of home now are undergoing repairs and probably have not gone through the permitting process. The town needs to recover its costs too. — Todd

I believe that we should have reduced fees for the flood victims. Some fee no matter how small should be required because, this would make monitoring where and how homes are rebuilt easier. — Barb

Photo by teofilo