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Tyrone Borough officials hit a financial roadblock in efforts to complete its flood control project

On March 12, 2008, Tyrone Borough officials and Michele Adams of Pennsylvania 30th District Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.’s office met with William Kcenich of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to review the widespread flooding issues that have plagued the Borough of Tyrone throughout its history.
The borough has a half-complete flood control project in existence, but work abruptly halted in November of 1978 due to cost share requirements that borough taxpayers refused to pay through a vote on a referendum.
At that time, the completion of the project held a price tag of $41 million, which Tyrone’s responsibility was $1.5 million.
When DEP came to Tyrone in March, part of the investigation included a tour of projects along Sink and Schell Runs, which were completed back in the 1970’s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
The tour also included the flood prone areas of the borough along Bald Eagle Creek and the Little Juniata River, where the USACE had proposed projects in the 70’s, but were never completed due to the borough voters’ decision on the referendum in ‘78.
DEP Chief of the Division of Project Development for the Bureau of Waterways Engineering, Joseph G. Capasso, P.E., informed borough officials that the estimated cost of the half-completed work recommended by the USACE in the ‘70’s is $107 million in today’s standards. He said that figure is “extremely high” and “beyond DEP’s Flood Protection Program.”
Capasso suggested that the borough request USACE to reactivate its analysis and DEP could potentially help support the borough if a project is again recommended for construction.
“Typically USACE federal flood protection projects are cost shared 65 percent federal and 35 percent non-federal,” said Capasso. “In addition to offering the borough our engineering expertise, DEP will cost share with Tyrone Borough on the non-federal costs on a 50/50 split.”
He added, “DEP does not cost share the cost of a federal feasibility report, which typically is on a 50 percent federal and 50 percent non-federal basis.”
The issue with the cost sharing for Tyrone Borough is that its share is still astronomical. The total project is estimated at $107 million to complete, which the borough would still have to fund 35 percent of that cost – equaling out to $37.5 million. DEP said it would cover 50 percent of the borough’s $37.5 million, which would still leave the borough a lofty cost of $18.8 million.
Borough voters turned down a $1.5 million cost in ‘78, which leaves the borough in the same predicament 30 years later. The majority of Tyrone residents aren’t effected by flooding, so it could be hard for a majority of borough residents to want to foot that bill.
DEP administers the Commonwealth’s flood protection program. The program not only provides cost sharing the non-federal portion of USACE projects, it can also consider the feasibility of providing a state funded structural flood protection project to flood-prone communities in Pennsylvania.
Capasso said that state flood protection projects are designed to protect communities from the “100-year flood,” or a flood that has a one percent chance of occurring in any given year.
These larger projects can consist of various combinations of compacted earth levees, concrete channels, floodwalls, channel improvements, and detention dams.
“A flood protection project must be economically justified before it can be recommended for funding by the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” noted Capasso. “Justification for a project is based on a favorable comparison of the benefits to the cost of constructing the project.”
Tyrone Borough Manager Sharon Dannaway said that the main issue with Tyrone’s flood control project is the obvious cost. She said that DEP doesn’t want to put $107 million into a project where the cost of doing the project doesn’t benefit the community to the point of the cost.
But, the borough plans to take the next step by conducting a feasibility study to turn into DEP for analysis.
“We’re still going to do a feasibility study by sending out forms to people who are in the flood area, to get what their damages are when a flood occurs,” said Dannaway. “We will send that back to DEP, so they can take a look at it and project the cost/benefit analysis on this.”
DEP would then consider the effects a 100-year flood would have on Tyrone and determine what measures could be applied to protect the high damage areas.
Capasso told the borough that a decision would need to be made to either pursue a USACE sponsored project with DEP support or discuss other options. These options could address the more severe section of the community, look into long term phase type construction, or consider a project that would provide something less than 100-year flood protection.
“Keep in mind that the USACE project recommendations from the ’70s are outdated and may no longer be practical solutions when considering today’s more strict environmental standards,” noted Capasso.
The feasibility study is the next step the borough is choosing to take for flood protection in Tyrone. Once that is completed, DEP will review the study and options will be discussed.
Pennsylvania is one of the most flood-prone states in the nation, according to DEP. But, Pennsylvania has one of the most extensive flood protection programs in the nation. The catch is, the programs must be economically justified.
Governor Edward G. Rendell is currently trying to provide $100 million in funds to be given out to flood-prone communities in Pennsylvania, but Tyrone’s project costs more than all of what Rendell is trying to set aside for communities.
Rendell’s efforts are merely a proposal. The monies could not be available, and Tyrone isn’t guaranteed to even be on the list of worthy flood-prone communities.