Flood recertification process needs to be completely public

The local flood levee protects $2.7 billion worth of property and just about every citizen in much of our region.

Estimates are that it is going to cost about $10 million to do the things to gain recertification of the levee, which is necessary to avoid drastic increases in flood insurance for thousands of homeowners in the region.

So it makes perfect sense that representatives and elected officials from the city, Old Lycoming and Loyalsock townships and South Williamsport borough joined Lycoming County officials last week to put together a plan for addressing the levee recertification.

And putting together a working group that will fashion a plan for executing the flood recertification plan is the correct approach.

What is not the correct procedure is doing all this groundwork in a private meeting.

Matt McDermott, chief administration for the county, said the meeting was private because the county was unsure if all the municipalities would be on board with a coordinated effort.

But that is not the qualifier on whether the meeting is public or private.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said a private meeting of this nature could be a violation of the state Sunshine Act.

It depends on what was discussed and who was at the meeting.

At the very least, making the meeting private sends the wrong message to the constituents of the municipalities, the city or the county.

Many of these same constituents will be paying a very expensive bill to regain the flood levee recertification.

They deserve open dialogue on this critical topic that directly involves them.

We have been heartened by how real and public dialogue has become among our Lycoming County Commissioners in the past year. The public is getting a better sense of the pros and cons of given issues based on the increased dialogue.

As far as we can tell, no one has been damaged by the frank discussion.

Fran McJunkin, deputy director for county mapping and data services and lead coordinator of the levee project, said she anticipates much more public outreach in the future as the group will want to make sure residents are aware of the upcoming decisions.

In our view, that is a must.

The flood recertification group had the right idea but is behind the curve regarding public transparency because of the way it chose to start the initiative.