Could Restore Pa. make flooding recovery faster in Centre County? Officials discuss

With an increase in rainfall, state and local officials believe Restore Pennsylvania has and will continue to build stronger infrastructure and lead to faster recovery for residents who feel the impact of the No. 1 threat to Pennsylvania ⁠— flooding.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed Restore Pennsylvania plan aims to assist local endeavors to improve waterways and other environmental initiatives. During a press conference in Bellefonte on Wednesday, representatives from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and county officials gathered to discuss how the plan could help local municipalities.

“We know that Pennsylvania is one of the most flood-prone states,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “We know that we deal with flooding on a regular basis.”

Padfield said residents have raised concern about the increase in rainfall. PEMA, working with the National Weather Service, examined Pennsylvania flooding events from 1993. The data, Padfield said, showed that 94% of the flooding reports occurred outside of an established floodplain — an area next to a body of water that is at risk for severe flooding.

Not all flooding events meet the threshold to receive federal disaster funding. In 2016, Centre County was able to obtain federal aide after flooding caused severe damage in Milesburg. Last year, Padfield said 5,200 Pennsylvania homes were either damaged or destroyed by flooding events.

Padfield said PEMA would use Restore Pennsylvania funds to develop a disaster survivor trust fund that would be used for individuals who are impacted by flooding and cannot meet the threshold for federal aid.

Diana Dombrowski and her dog view the flooded exit off of the bridge over Spring Creek in Talleyrand Park Friday, Aug 3, 2018 in Bellefonte. Phoebe Sheehan psheehan@centredaily.com

“That’s really key for a lot of these smaller disasters that still have local impacts,” he said, adding that it can take years for communities to recover on their own.

Talleyrand Park saw severe flooding in 2018 after Spring Creek flooded twice, but Bellefonte Borough Council President Joanne Tosti-Vasey said the flood wall which was built in 2016 helped mitigate damage.

Commissioners Michael Pipe and Mark Higgins, who were in attendance at Wednesday’s event, supported Restore Pennsylvania when they voted in favor of a resolution that supported the plan’s $4.5 billion infrastructure improvement plan during a June board of commissioners meeting. During his remarks on Wednesday, Pipe said he is optimistic the plan, adding that its funds will increase the “safety, security and resiliency” of Centre County.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield talks about the potential benefits of Restore Pennsylvania, a plan that would provide $4.5 billion to help build stronger state infrastructure. Marley Parish

In June, Commissioner Steve Dershem opposed the resolution, saying that it imposes a severance tax on the natural gas industry and comes with too many uncertainties.

“We’re excited for the possibility of (Restore Pennsylvania) becoming law,” Pipe said, adding his belief that the more ability the county has to invest will pay off in the future.

Restore Pennsylvania aims to improve rural broadband, blight, green infrastructure, transportation projects and development; however, the bill has not yet been voted into law.

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.