Rep. Millard Talks with Fernville Residents

Here is the live blog of the meeting between Rep. Millard and Fernville Residents

Here is the live stream archive of the meeting between Rep. Millard and Fernville Residents

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.

Rep. Millard explains what residents should do to apply for disaster relief in this linked article.

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.

Rep. Millard Works To Streamline Flood Relief

State Representative David Millard held a public meeting at the request of the residents of Fernville on the evening of October 20th, 2011. With the discussion revolving around the uncertainty of when and how Fernville residents would receive funds for the repair or acquisition of their damaged properties, Rep. Millard assured those in attendance that their well-being and care are his primary concern.

“This event was of such a magnitude, that we need to take people out of harm’s way,” Rep. Millard stated. “I want to facilitate that.”

Most of the residents in attendance reported receiving varying information from local, state, or federal government offices, creating much confusion.

Anticipating the uncertainty, Rep. Millard requested and received from Congressman Lou Barletta the “boiler plate forms” for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that all residents of the 109th District who wish to apply for disaster relief should use.

Rep. Millard emphasized that while these forms can be submitted to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency as indicated, his office is able and more than willing to accept these applications on the State’s behalf.

Submitting these forms directly to Rep. Millard’s office will help him in advocating in the General Assembly for sufficient disaster relief funds to be directed to the local area.

Rep. Millard also wishes to remind local residents that when submitting this information, they should include with the forms the most recent 2011 assessed value of their properties, not values that may have been assessed for similar relief in 2006. Also, a recent picture of the property should be included.

Links to Downloadable copies of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Pre-Application Form distributed by Rep. Millard and a FEMA Factsheet

Rep. Millard’s District Offices Contact Information

Website: PA State Representative David Millard

Bloomsburg Office, MOVED TEMPORARILY TO:
Bloomsburg Tech Center
240 Market St.
Bloomsburg PA, 17815

TOLL-FREE 855-282-0615
(570) 387-0246
FAX: (570) 387-4288

Saundra Robbins
Lisa Wagner

Berwick Office
904B Orange St.
Berwick PA, 18603

(570) 759-8734
FAX: (570) 759-4527

Trudy Stout
Chris Yacina

Photo by FeatheredTar

Live Blog of Rep. Millard Fernville Meeting

7:46 Meeting Ends

7:41 Resident reporting a past meeting with Army Corps of Engineers and their aversion to dredging because the waterway beds refill in just 15 years

7:40 Rep Millard said among his goals is to remove the worst of the debris along fishing creek

7:36 Rep millard asked for FEMA rep to be here tonight, but FEMA was unable to attend. Rep Millard said that FEMA will be presenting to the General Assembly and has a commitment from FEMA to attend at future meetings. These meetings with Rep Millard and FEMA will be advertised in the press and radio. Meeting will deal specifically with acquisition and shortening the time frame

7:35 Rep Millard asking for contact information from residents for follow up

7:33 Conversation turns from buyout back to the cleanup and dredging of Fishing Creek and the necessity for something to be done about that waterway

7:29 Resident asking about possibility of people grouping together for private demolition. Offers to ask around for his neighbors to see if this is possible

7:28 If there is a massive buyout, properties will probably be grouped and the TWP will put out bids for demolition

7:25 Rep Millard: in the past redevelopment authority was charged with administering buyout.

7:24 There is still general confusion over insurance money received and how that will affect eventual buyout money received, with different messages coming form Hemlock Township and Rep Millard

7:23 Back to Live blogging after dealing with video feed

7:11 Rep Millard: Eminent Domain can be used to forcibly acquire homes, but this is only used in extreme circumstances.

7:06 Resident asked if it is possible for him to sell his home outright. Rep Millard responds that he knows of no reason why that is not possible.

7:04 Rep. Millard looking to collect information from the residents in attendance so that he can follow the process along and help residents get the insurance coverage they’re due.

7:01 Residents cross-talking and generally angry at the whole project, that either a buyout was not done and the floodwall not built

7:01 Resident: Asking how long these flood wall feasibility studies are going to go on?

6:58 Rep Millard asking how many residents saw their flood insurance rates go up, general hand raising and agreement that rates for most did.

6:57 General murmuring “We’ll never see the Floodwall”

6:55 Resident: Wondering about keeping records from contrators when she has people just working on her property who are not contractors. Rep Millard says to just keep track of hours.

6:50 Stephanie Haney: Wed. Nov 2nd there will be a 2PM and 6PM meeting held at TWP. building to help residents with the acquisition process.

6:49 General Frustration from many people over the slowness of government insurance response and the futility of raising homes above flood level.

6:46 Resident asking about the necessity of making people carry $100,000 (for example) of flood insurance when there’s only $10,000 left on their mortgage.

6:45 Rep Millard: Hazard Assessment officer based in Stillwater, with PEMA, works with DEP.

6:44 Resident: Asking who determines value of house before flooding

6:40 Rep Millard collecting information from residents on which companies assessed their damaged properties so the information can also be forwarded to FEMA

6:39 Rep Millard: If there is success with the bond program to speed up the buyout process, he will make public notice about that.

6:38 Resident is frustrated at different answers from different government agencies.

6:37 Rep Millard emphasises that he will advocate on Residents’ behalf for all that want to be acquired.

6:36 Commissioner Kovack: If you feel the FEMA appraised value of your home is incorrect you may appeal. You can go to the DRC on Sawmill Road. Weekdays 10-7pm Sat 10-5pm 800 827 8112

6:34 Rep Millard: Isn’t sure of answer to that question. Will double check with FEMA on their position on this issue

6:32 Resident: If a floodwall is going to go through a person’s property, will those properties be bought out?

6:27 [Asked not to record this part – Private information]

6:26 Residents in agreement that in 2006 they got money a lot faster from State Farm than from FEMA in 2011

6:26 Residents interject that they are getting less money now for greater damage when compared to 2006

6:21 Resident asking about money received from insurance, if that money is put toward mortgage, how will that effect buyout if that occurs.

6:18 Residents ask about money received from insurance and then from posible buyout. Records must be kept of money received and from where. Buyout money received will be deducted from amount previously received from insurance.

6:16 Resident worried about the meeting not publicized well, learned about it from the Bloomsburg Daily.

6:14 Rep Millard says that more than 200 Ft. of the island the taken out Army Corps of engineers must be called in to manage project.

6:13 Rep. Millard says it is feasible and permits are rather easy to get

6:12 Rep Millard responds that Dept. Environmental Protection can issue emergency permits.

6:11 Resident: What would be possibility of private dredging?

6:10 Legislation for bond issue and stream clean up is being talked about.

6:09 Rep Millard suggests possibility of floating a state bond to speed up buyout process.

6:08 Residents frustrated over being homeless and having mortgages while waiting for checks

6:07 18 months to 2 years before checks would be issued. Anger from Residents over this

6:06 Rep Millard says that first we must know how much money is coming from the Federal government and then how it is divided before it will be disbursed.

6:05 Rep Millard doesn’t know answer but says that that question has been asked many times and it depends on where and when and if floodwall is built

6:04 What the future will hold for Fernville if a flood wall goes in after a home is rebuilt and the home is in the way of a new floodwall.

6:03 Opening up to Resident questions

6:01 Rep. Millard encourages residents to ask Twp. officials to use the higher value for buyout of homes.

6:01 There is the assessment value and appraised value of homes. Township can decide which value is going to be used.

6:00 Rep Millard looking for a list of names and addresses of resident adn the value of their houses of what the residents think the buyout value of their homes would be.

5:59 State is looking to find a way to shift dollars for buyout, but needs to know first what is available from the Federal Government

5:57 Meeting started early. Rep Millard talking about funding for buyout of homes in Fernville

Rep. Millard will be holding a meeting with Fernville residents tonight at 6:00 PM at the Bloomsburg Tech Center (the old Elks). We are going to attempt to live blog and live stream the event, as we did for the Bloomsburg Town Council Open Forum. Technology and other factors may change our plans, but we will keep you updated here, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Can We Afford to Play Politics with Disaster Relief?

My heart goes out to my neighbors and friends in Fernville and the rest of the area that were hit hardest by this disaster.  I have witnessed an amazing response by so many individuals and organizations.  I’m proud to be a member of a community that is willing to help others in tough times.  It’s these values and principals that bind a community like ours together.I was amazed to see the initial clean up effort that occurred in Fernville soon after the flood — people and machinery working to clear debris, the American Red Cross offering food and water, meals being served in a food pavilion set up in the park, door-to-door delivery of cleaning supplies, and neighbors helping neighbors.  All of it was truly inspiring.  But now that destroyed homes are officially off-limits and owners are not allowed to enter them, a “wait and see” attitude has set in.  It is a shame to see the homes along Drinker Street in Fernville sit derelict.

As I have been contemplating the possible scenarios regarding destroyed homes, I started to think about the subject in relation to national politics.  And what I came up with is that I don’t know how people will be able to afford the demolition of their destroyed homes and other associated costs without assistance.  My assumption is that most people in flooded areas are going to struggle to afford it.  And specifically, I’m concerned about exactly who is going to pay for demolishing the property and making the land clean and safe again.

With budgets being cut on the federal and state levels, I fear that our local government is eventually going to be forced to pick up the tab.  It was just a few weeks ago that Congress (at the last second) appropriated funds to keep FEMA afloat.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued that equal cuts need to be made elsewhere before allocating more funds to programs like FEMA.  Fortunately, for our local flood victims collecting FEMA monies, the argument failed to persuade lawmakers.  A legislative gridlock on this issue could have had a very close-up and personal effect on our community.

But if the political trend continues to slash mandatory spending in our federal programs such as aid to flood victims, then we may be faced with shifting this burden to state and local government. Earlier this year, many Republicans wanted to slash next year’s FEMA budget by 55%.  We may need to find revenue elsewhere, or be forced to raise local taxes, to aid in current and future recovery efforts if the responsibility is left to local government.

Just look at how much Bloomsburg spent on the curb side removal of trash.  Estimates put the figure at several hundred thousand dollars. The numbers add up quickly and it is an overwhelming burden to put on a small community like ours.

This is the reason we have federal and state assistance.  I strongly believe the federal and state emergency funding systems need to stay in place. Keep in mind, if we don’t have FEMA or PEMA, there won’t be any “buy outs.”

That being said, not all of the money needed is coming from the government.  Donations have been pouring in from all over.  First Columbia Bank donated $100,000 to flood relief.  Many more business have also contributed.  Individuals like former resident Gary Hock have contributed.  Gary donated $100,000 of his own money to the relief effort.

But is it smart or responsible to rely on the generosity of individuals to get us out of this mess?  I have profound appreciation and admiration for those contributing their time and money to the relief effort.   But can we expect these individuals and businesses to donate money to the next disaster?  My hope is that our community, with help from our state and federal governments, will be able to help those with destroyed homes sooner rather than later.

Have an opinion on a local subject?  Email us your opinion pieces and let the conversation begin.

The Unknowns of Condemned Homes in Fernville

In Fernville and all over our area, we are facing a steep learning curve in order to understand the process of home condemnation after the flooding damage.   Tri-County COG IBC Inspection Service (Tri County Council of Government, International Building Code) is the third-party agency that is legally responsible for inspecting flood damaged homes for the Commonwealth here in Columbia County.  They cover Fernville and the 22 other municipalities surrounding Bloomsburg.  The town of Bloomsburg has their own inspectors.

Stephen G. Bielskie, Sr. is the person from Tri-County COG IBC whose duty it is to inspect homes and report damage levels back to the municipality who will then condemn the homes if they are found to be unsafe for habitation.  Municipalities provide a list of homes to inspect and he is responsible for conducting the inspections and sending copies of the reports back to the local governments.  There are several levels of damage and it is important to understand the differences between each.

According to Mr. Bielskie, homes can be labeled:

  • Damaged (impacted but still able to be lived in)
  • Condemned (impacted and unable to be lived in until repairs are made)
  • Condemned and Destroyed (impacted, unable to be lived in, and not able to be repaired)

A home that is condemned is uninhabitable, but it can be repaired and re-inhabited. However, homes that are condemned and labeled “destroyed” generally must be demolished.

There are several reasons a home might be condemned.  Most of the homes that have been condemned after the flooding have been designated as such for health and structural reasons. Owners must make corrections to the homes in order to make them clean, safe, and livable. Any structural damage must be repaired before owners can move back in.  Some of the condemned homes have also been labeled “destroyed.”  In these cases, owners may have no other choice but to demolish their homes.  In Mr. Bielskie’s words, “The only good news right now is that the number of condemned homes is starting to come down, as owners make repairs and get rid of mold.”

There is, however, still a lot of ambiguity as to what happens to condemned properties — especially the destroyed ones.  Will FEMA initiate buy-outs? Do the owners have a responsibility to demolish the structure and make the land clean and safe?  Ideally individuals would have the liberty to do what they see fit with the property.  However, this isn’t always in the best interest of the public especially if the current condition of the property puts the public safety and health at risk.  If it is determined that public health is at risk, the local, state or federal government (after providing just compensation) can take possession via eminent domain.  This shifts responsibility of the property away from the individual and on to the government.

But with the future of compensation funding uncertain in these economic times, we are presented with more unknowns.  Even if disaster relief funding remains at current levels, there still may be a rough ride ahead.  After previous historic flooding in Hemlock Township, the municipality was required to pay half of the compensation for homes destroyed in order to get any federal funding.  It would be very difficult for the municipality to pay half of the amount for homes now declared destroyed from the recent flooding.  And further complicating the matter is the fact that no one seems certain as to how many homes are actually considered destroyed in Fernville and beyond.  The township is currently working on guidelines with the other Emergency Management Agencies (PEMA, FEMA, local EMA) to deal with the severely damaged homes.

Without immediate action our public health may also be at risk.  Many condemned homes have had their power turned off, meters removed, and their water and sewer lines cut.  Without the use of these utilities, it will be very difficult to correct flood related problems now affecting these properties.  If you don’t have the furnace, sump pump, dehumidifiers, fans, and water for cleaning up, mold and other problems are only going to multiply.  If the owners are unable or unwilling to return their properties to a safe, clean, and livable state, then this leaves neighbors and local government to deal with the fallout.  Potential infestation of rodents and bugs, the spread of mold, and a host of other health related problems are of real concern.

The tight-knit and resilient community of Fernville has seen flooding before but this time it may be a game changer.  According to supervisors, one of the ideas on the table is to require owners to elevate homes above flood level or move them entirely if flood damage has exceeded 50% of the home’s market value.  The only other option would be to demolish the property.  It is entirely unknown whether home owners could afford or would even be willing to do that.  But one thing is for certain— the landscape is going to change along Drinker Street.  In Mr. Bielskie’s words, “People might have to raise up their houses, move them, or take them down.  Personally, I think those houses with repetitive damage need to be bought out by FEMA.  But there are no real answers from anyone right now.”

This is an ongoing discussion and we can all continue to help one another figure out the answers. Please comment below and let’s get a discussion going that takes us in a positive direction.

Mike Fritz for The Bloomsburg Daily

Photo Credit,  Derek Gittler