Legislation to Give More Local Control Over Waterway Improvements Passes PA House
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - This week, several bills giving local officials and landowners more authority to address waterway improvements passed the House.
The bills were the result of frustration among landowners and farmers in the northern tier. The bills were introduced earlier this year and were first considered in the House in May, after stakeholders testified in front of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in April.
Among those who testified in April is Tioga County Dairy Farmer, Johnny Painter. Painter, also a representative for the PA Farm Bureau, spoke alongside stakeholders earlier this week just two days before the passage of several of the bills.
“This package of bills allows local governments to take control over the waterways in municipalities,” said Painter, who added that local control over waterway matters is essential. "Because Pennsylvania is widely varied topographically. Waterway problems in one area might be significantly different in another,” he added.
House Bill 2405 sponsored by Representative Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna) passed the House 129-69 votes.
“The goal of our legislation is to give the power back to the people to prevent the damage a ravaging creek can cause in their communities,” said Pickett. “Local government officials are frustrated by the red tape and delays they encounter when trying to address stream maintenance issues. These bills will enable them to do something when it needs to be done,” she added.
HB 2405 allows counties, in consultation with their county conservation district, to issue emergency permits for stream maintenance. The legislation was modeled after a pilot project in Bradford County, which stakeholders hope will become statewide.
“It's a project that's been very successful," said Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller. “I'm here to support the bills that are going to help hopefully facilitate expanding that program because it is a very beneficial program and it’s working in Bradford County, and we hope to see it spread throughout the Commonwealth,” added Miller when he spoke at the Capitol this week.
Miller says the pilot program provides an important educational component, with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to help deal with stream maintenance.
“Bradford County, a number of years ago, embarked on a pilot project where we worked with DEP to try to see if we could facilitate getting a permitting process in place that would allow residents and landowners and municipal officials to work in their streams- through a permitting process- through our conservation district,” said Miller. “The crux of the project is simply that there's an educational component to it and also a hands-on component in teaching how you properly maintain streams,” added Miller.
Aside from providing efficiency and local authority, Miller said the package of bills will also save taxpayer dollars.
“This costs us all, as taxpayers, a lot of money restoring the bridges, infrastructure, the critical infrastructure, roads, telecommunication systems after flooding events,” said Miller. “That touches us all because we're actually paying for that through tax dollars and especially when it comes to roads and bridges.”
Other bills passed this week include HB 2406, a bill that would create a permit specific to smaller maintenance projects. HB 2408 would clarify that no permit would be required for maintenance on a culvert. HB 2409 states no permit shall be required for the removal of flood-related hazards from streams that are deemed to be an emergency by a state or county. HB 2410 states that no permit shall be required for stream maintenance activities conducted 50 feet or less upstream or downstream of a bridge or culvert.
“If we want our communities to grow, if we want to encourage economic growth and development, we need to be able to effectively maintain our creeks and streams and provide assurance that your investment in a home, a business or a farm isn’t going to be washed away the next time it rains,” said Representative Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter).
Owlett’s HB 2404, and an additional measure, are set to receive final votes in the House next week. HB 2404 would allow government organizations to apply for a permit for continuing maintenance for a period of at least ten years for the streams within their jurisdiction. The other, HB 2407, would clarify that the PA Fish and Boat Commission has no authority for permitting or enforcement related to stream clearing or maintenance activities.
“We developed a great package of bills that simply puts a little bit of commonsense into maintaining our creeks and streams,” said Owlett.
The bills that passed the House now head to the Senate for consideration.