Muncy prepares for project to fill floodplain basements

MUNCY — With 40 percent of the borough in the floodplain, relief from the high cost of flood insurance is on the way for qualified homeowners with a $1.4 million grant that is headed to Muncy for flood mitigation, according to Josh Schnitzlein, hazard mitigation planner with the Lycoming County Planning Commission.

Speaking to Muncy Borough Council, Schnitzlein said that the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) grant will enable property owners to fill in their homes’ basements which, in turn, will reduce the footage used in calculating flood insurance costs.

For example, a home may only have 2 feet of water outside of the structure, but if there is a basement that is 8 feet high, flood insurance is based on the home having 10 feet affected by the flood. If the 8 feet in the basement are eliminated by filling in that space, the insurance rate is greatly reduced. Multiple materials, such as rebar concrete, sand or pebbles, are used to fill in the basements. Participation in the program is voluntary.

“This does not take you out of the floodplain, but it makes it liveable,” Councilman Ed Feigles said.

According to Schnitzlein, Lycoming County is one of the first counties to do this.

“We’ve never done this before,” he said. “The county has only done buyouts.”

Although the county has been very successful with FEMA buyouts, according to Schnitzlein, “If we fill in the basements and reduce flood insurance, we’ll keep homes on the tax rolls. Buyouts aren’t always the best options.”

One of the qualifications to participate in the program is for a property owner to have moved the furnace and other utilities from the basement to a living area or utility room addition or the willingness to do this. There also are income requirements for this program.

Schnitzlein said that he hopes to have an informational meeting for borough residents at the end of next month. Intake for the program also will be done at that time.

The project is primarily suited to properties that are not in the areas of the borough that suffer the most during severe flooding, but Schnitzlein emphasized that the intake is for everyone in the floodplain.

“I want to keep it open and take information from everyone,” he said. “I don’t want to limit it.”

Filling in the basements of qualifying properties is Phase I of the program with Phase II dealing with home elevations, where a home is raised out of the flood plain. Phase II most likely will begin at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, according to Schnitzlein.