The future of Church Street in Meshoppen (top) remains uncertain as council members on Monday evening postponed an agreement with the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority that will delay the CBDG buyouts planned for this summer. The borough is at odds with the agency over who should be responsible for maintaining properties after homes are removed, as well as where the gas royalties will go. Reparation of the storm drain across from the borough office (above) will take place when council receives a cost estimate they consider reasonable.
Photos and Story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Tabling motions and putting off plans was the most consistent theme at the monthly meeting of the Meshoppen Borough Council on June 4. Key questions went unanswered as council members blamed unreturned phone calls, late emails, and misunderstandings for a lack of progress on a number of agenda items.
Among the important issues at hand was a request of the borough by Lisa Hahn of the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority to approve an agreement that would allow the slow process of flood buyouts and demolition of flood-prone homes to proceed.
One of the stipulations of the CBDG buyout of properties on Church and Allen streets is that the borough will maintain what remains of the properties as green space. The options for green space can include mowing the grass several times per year, installation of a riparian buffer, or a properly planned restoration of the land to a natural, wooded state.
Hahn was asked if the borough would be compensated for the work. While direct compensation is not a part of the buyout plan, Hahn reportedly said that the borough could apply for grants through the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) or Department of Environment Protection to complete the work.
Another matter of contention is the natural gas royalties currently received by two of the property owners in the buyout area. When county EMA director Gene Dziak visited Meshoppen with Hahn on April 2 to provide details of the buyout, he told council that nobody gets the gas royalties after a buyout. On Monday evening, council members cited Dziak as recently telling them that HUD (Housing & Urban Development) officials had told him that the property owners take the gas rights with them. Council president John Bunnell contends that such was not the case in other municipalities that have dealt with flood buyouts.
Council member Mike Voorhees expressed his resentment at Hahn’s suggestion that the borough will benefit from the buyouts. “I don’t understand how she can say that,” he remarked, noting that the properties will no longer contribute to the town’s tax base and will become a financial liability under the proposed agreement. Voorhees also questioned who would be responsible for repairing damage to the sidewalks and streets in the course of demolition.
On that note, the council agreed unanimously to table the approval of the agreement until their solicitor, Atty. Jonathan Foster, brings them a version that absolves the borough of all responsibility for the properties, the number of which nobody on council could confirm. Hahn and Dziak were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Grant for Playground Equipment Unlikely
On March 22, the Wyoming County Commissioners declined to approve Meshoppen’s application for a $5,000 in Marcellus Legacy funds for new playground equipment on the grounds that the borough had not fulfilled an agreement with DCNR to have a master site plan completed for the community park. On May 7, the Meshoppen Council made a unanimous decision not to accept the $15,000 grant that DCNR had approved for the plan.
When borough secretary Phyllis Adams contacted county planner Lynnelle Farber prior to the May 7 meeting to inquire about the Marcellus grant, Farber told her to contact DCNR and settle the matter between the state agency and the borough. Farber maintains that receipt of the $5,000 for playground equipment still hinges on the completion of the master site plan. “It is my understanding that the commissioners are not willing to give them money to install playground equipment that could be taken away by the next flood,” Farber told the Rocket-Courier on Tuesday.
On May 7, Adams said that she had made a call to DCNR that was not returned. At the June 4 meeting, she said that she had made a second call to DCNR that also was not returned.
General Maintenance on Schedule
Mike Voorhees reported that mowing in the borough has been caught up, despite persistent rain showers. The wet weather has made it impossible for him to spray weeds, however. Voorhees and mayor Bruce Marshall met with PennDOT officials about repaving a 500 foot section of Mowry Street, to which council gave approval if the estimated cost is consistent with previous projects of a similar scope. Council member Doris Pickett said that flower boxes on both bridges over Meshoppen Creek will be put out soon.
Council member Bruce Priestner volunteered to complete a new hazard mitigation plan survey online on behalf of the borough and to meet with a DCNR flood plain administrator on Thursday to go over maps and address any questions about the borough’s compliance with flood management regulations.
Bunnell reported that work on ditches along Church Street is ongoing, but a drain on Canal Street between the borough office and the post office remains in disrepair due to concerns over cost. Bunnell feels that the work could be done for about a thousand dollars, and the sole estimate received by the borough so far is four thousand dollars. Council agreed to seek other bidders.
There has been no progress on collecting past due sewer and water payments nor shutting off water and sewer to delinquent properties. Voorhees said that much of the money in question is tied up in rental properties owned by Steve Colley, and the borough expects full reimbursement when the flood buyouts are complete.
Grants and Donation Support Police Work
Marshall reported that borough police chief John Krieg and officer Sierra Crane were nearing the end of the one-month, state-sponsored Buckle Up PA program. The state provides funding for overtime hours that are concentrated on traffic safety. The timeline was extended this year due to rainy weather.
Bunnell read a letter from UGI Energy Services thanking the police department for their service and cooperation over the past year and included a one thousand dollar donation to the department. It was at least the second year that the utility company had offered such support.
Bulk trash pick-up for borough residents will take place on Saturday, June 16, starting at 7 am. Eligible for pickup are household items, appliances, and furniture. No household trash, brush, construction materials nor chemicals will be accepted. Cost per mattress is five dollars and 25 dollars for refrigerators, which must be paid for at the time of pickup. Cost for tire removal varies at the discretion of RG Brown employees, who will conduct the cleanup.
Meshoppen Community Day is set for Saturday, June 30 from 11 am to 5 pm in the ball park.
The next public meeting of the Meshoppen Borough Council will be held on Monday, July 2 at 7:30 pm in the borough office on Canal Street.