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Secretary tours flood-prone part of Williamsport

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette DEP Secratary Patrick McDonnel, second right, talks with residents during a tour of Grafius Run Tuesday. from left is Marcus Kohl, regional director of the DEP northcentral region, Megan Lehman, community relations coordinator for DEP, McDonnell, and Adam Winder, general manager of the Williamsport Department of Streets and Parks.

Kelli Travis, of Elmira Street, felt a morale boost when Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, visited Grafius Run to discuss flood mitigation potential.

Travis listened, was glad to see him and was heartened by how the state officials had an eye out for her community, she said.

She acknowledged it isn’t going to be an easy fix. Travis said her shed was knocked off its foundation during one flood event.

City officials have heard dozens of such stories.

Council has been informed that $1.1 million will be put into the state capital projects budget toward remediation. McDonnell said these residents can be assured the state is monitoring the situation and working on the study to see what is best solution.

One by one, people asked questions of city workers in front of the secretary, such as whether the log-picker machine was “disaster tested.”

The hydraulics are used so much and it is up and running, a city worker said in response.

There is supposed to be a two-alarm system working, but the alarm at the Cochran Primary School needed to be put in, said Adam Winder, general manager of city streets and parks department.

Residents expressed concern over the alarm system and they feared there was little communication, especially during early morning and late night hour floods.

McDonnell listened as there were more fears expressed, such as whether unionized city workers had specific hours to work and how a heavy equipment operator, who lived in Hughesville, 20 miles to the east, had to be called in to operate the machinery during a flood.

As McDonnell heard these residents’ pleas for help he said the state has their back but is seeing increasing pressure because of water infiltration issues.

Faster delivery of funds, McDonnell said, would be available for watershed restoration but only if state lawmakers take action on a proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf, which is called “Restore Pa.”

The money taken from severance tax on oil and gas companies, estimated to be $4.5 billion, would be used, in part, to fund watershed restoration projects, such as Grafius Run mitigation. The timetable could be from two to five years, McDonnell said.

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