(Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles that have appeared in The Daily Herald to highlight issues that were addressed at Senator John Eichelberger’s town hall meeting held Tuesday night in Tyrone.)
Pennsylvania’s 30th District Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr. was prepared to answer questions about Tyrone Borough’s half-complete flood control plan at this past Tuesday evening’s town hall meeting at the Tyrone Senior Center. But, did the senator have any answers to provide the Tyrone community.
Tyrone’s Flood Control Project was officially halted on the morning of Nov. 7, 1978 after borough voters, by nearly a three to one margin, voted against a referendum to continue the flood control project. The overwhelming majority of voters saved borough residents a 90 percent increase in the borough property taxes that was to be extended over a 25 year period.
Nearly half of the five phase U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project was already complete. The original project was revived in 1961 and was estimated to cost $11.8 million, but by 1978 the project held a price tag of $41 million.
The flood control project in Tyrone grew roots in 1945 due to the devastating flood in March of 1936 that produced $1.4 million in estimated losses in that time period. Tyrone has endured several severe floods in the early 1950’s, 1972 and 2004. Many residents in Tyrone think it’s time that the flood control project finally gets completed.
Senator Eichelberger knows first hand about Tyrone’s flood problem. When the 2004 flood reeked havoc on the borough, his insurance company happened to cover the Tyrone YMCA at the time. The flood eventually caused the YMCA to officially close its doors.
He added, “That was devastating. I was there first hand and I saw a lot of that damage.”
“I’ve learned a lot about the flood control problems here the last couple of days,” said Eichelberger. “We’ll bring somebody down from DEP and see what ideas they have, and we’ll work on it.”
But sending a representative from the state Department of Environmental Protection might not be enough to get anything done. Eichelberger said the original project was an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project, so the federal government was funding it at the time. He said residents and local officials could call Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster or U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and ask them if they have any interest in trying to search for options and federal money for the project.
“It’s always good to explore state and federal money possibilities,” stated Eichelberger. “I can’t control what the feds would do, but I will try to look at what’s available through the state.”
Tyrone’s Park Avenue residents and borough business owners typically take on the full depth of a flood when one hits the area. Park Avenue resident and advocate of a completed flood control project, Dan Meckes, is very adamant about the borough’s lack of initiative in completing the project.
Meckes told the senator how in 2004, Park Avenue residents were evacuated from their homes and sent to the Tyrone Area High School, along with pets. He’s upset that the borough puts money into revitalizing the downtown area when the Little Juniata River floods the downtown consistently.
“It just makes no sense to me until flooding is addressed,” added Meckes.
Meckes also mentioned to Eichelberger about Governor Ed Rendell’s budget proposal of $100 million in additional flood protection across the commonwealth. But the senator said that most of the money in the proposal already has places to be distributed to, and Tyrone isn’t one of those places.
Eichelberger added that he wasn’t even sure the flood protection proposal would pass through the state House of Representatives and Senate.
Another Tyrone resident, Mark Laird, told the senator that much of the flooding problems occur upstream along the Little Juniata River due to water run-off from development, stating that “the water has nowhere to go but in the stream, and who gets it but Tyrone.”
Some people think that by dredging the stream that would solve the flooding problem in Tyrone, because it has been done before. Eichelberger said that DEP doesn’t allow dredging in the river. He said tightened or implemented local ordinances are an option to address development issues and storm water.
To complete the Tyrone Flood Control Project should be a priority. In 1977, the borough conducted engineering studies for Phase III of the project. At that time, Phases IV and V would have involved the deepening and boxing in of both the Bald Eagle Creek and the Juniata River through the borough.
Eichelberger said that he would follow up with DEP, and local officials have the opportunity to contact officials on the federal level to seek possible funding.
If the price of the Tyrone Flood Control Project was $41 million in 1978, an estimated price to complete the project today could be close to or over $100 million.