PHILIPSBURG – The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been holding a series of outreach events as part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania initiative.
Monday evening representatives of DEP held a DEP Connects public outreach event at the offices in Philipsburg. It was entitled: Maintaining Streams in Your Community.
DEP representatives Marcus Kohl, regional director, Dan Vilello, local government liaison, and Megan Lehman, community relations specialist, talked to those present about Restore Pennsylvania and DEP’s part in that, and how communities can make use of DEP’s resources to improve waterways.
Restore Pennsylvania kicked off in Harrisburg about four weeks ago and has gained bi-partisan support. The $4.5 billion initiative was created to help towns and cities with new development, as well as to provide rural and disadvantaged areas with opportunities and a modern, interconnected commonwealth.
One of the items the governor hopes to address is storm preparedness and disaster recovery. With recent rain events, Pennsylvania has seen flooding incidents where communities and residents experience severe damage to property and structures, but they do not qualify for state or federal assistance.
The initiative would provide funding to restore stream banks, floodplain restoration, flood control and help with restoration and recovery after damaging storms and floods.
DEP is encouraging residents and municipalities to take initiative in restoring and maintaining waterways. DEP understands that often the agency, and other government agencies, are seen as “the bad guy” and wants to change that image.
One part of this effort is the open house outreach programs where they provide guidelines on when DEP should be contacted and to dispel myths about the agency.
Maintaining streams can help prevent problems with flooding in the future by removing debris, such as fallen trees or limbs, planting native plants and trees to stabilize stream banks, maintaining culverts and so on.
Often, DEP isn’t aware that something has occurred because it’s a localized event. Or, a problem gradually grows and they are not notified.
“We need eyes on the ground,” Vilello said, explaining that if DEP is contacted right away, they can come and look at a situation and give advice on the best way to deal with it. Other resources include the local municipality and County Conservation District.
Lehman noted that Restore Pennsylvania is trying to look more realistically at these issues in order to be proactive in preventing problems.
She said they want to start looking at whole watershed solutions instead of addressing a problem here and there and then creating a band-aid solution when solving the cause of the issue is much more effective.
“We want to help solve problems,” Kohl added, noting the earlier DEP is involved the more help they can be.
During the discussion a representative of Rush Township noted that it “is no secret we have a water problem,” referring to ongoing flooding issues affecting much of the Moshannon Valley area.
She said representatives of the municipalities including Decatur Township, Chester Hill Borough and Philipsburg Borough have been trying to work together to resolve the issues, which include an unfinished flood control project. The problem is, where to start, where to get funding and so on.
Kohl said the municipalities working together is a great example of what Restore Pennsylvania is looking to achieve.
He said most problems with flooding do not affect just one area and with municipalities and residents working together much can be accomplished. He said DEP wants to be part of the planning and to attend meetings and sit down with people and talk.
“At the end of the day, finances are driving the discussion,” he said, adding Restore Pennsylvania would be a possible funding solution.
“DEP can try and help steer toward the easiest path, which is often also the least expensive. The earlier DEP and other agencies are involved, the more help they can provide.”
Kohl also noted that DEP is looking at the Chesapeake Bay plan on the local level and for more cost-effective ways to protect the bay because the Chesapeake Bay initiatives have resulted in lots of money being spent to correct issues.
In addition to public outreach, DEP encourages anyone with questions to contact DEP. The north-central regional office in Williamsport can be reached at 570-327-3636 or at dep.pa.gov.
DEP also has a publication, Guidelines for Maintaining Streams in Your Community, which gives information on what can be done without DEP involvement, what may need DEP’s involvement and when DEP must be contacted, as well as good rules of thumb including advising ways to prevent problems before they begin.