When runoff from last Friday’s severe storms overwhelmed a storm drain above Main Street in Laceyville, borough council president Randy Brigham and others constructed a three-foot levy across the road to direct the overflow to open drains and out of town.
Story by Rick Hiduk/Photo by Randy Brigham
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Residents of Laceyville rallied to “save the day” on Aug. 3 when two waves of torrential rains caused flash flooding, erosion and mud slides in the borough. Construction of a temporary levy on Main Street and other measures prevented damage to properties from being as bad as it might have been. Wyoming County EMA director Gene Dziak told Laceyville mayor Phil Brewer that the immediate reactions of borough council president Randy Brigham and others certainly mitigated the potential damages.
In the wake of the latest of what seems to be a relentless stream of severe storms, Brigham sounded the alarm at Tuesday evening’s council meeting. He expressed his concerns that manpower alone is not enough to save Laceyville from future disasters. The borough retains almost no equipment nor supplies of its own, and Brigham leaned to Braintrim Township for signs, cones, and millings to build the dam. He used his own excavator.
“We have nothing. We’re working on a zero budget,” he stated. “We don’t even have a sign to keep people from driving off a cliff.”
Heavy rains since the beginning of spring have prompted ongoing discussion among council members as to how to the best way to address runoff issues that seem to get worse with each big storm. Bill and Bonnie Ely of 108 Lacey Street were in attendance on Tuesday to share their story of the Aug. 3 flooding.
“All of a sudden, there was water coming in every corner of the basement, which hasn’t happened in 30 years,” Bill related. The direct source of much of the water, the Elys and Brigham determined, was from the area around Huffmans Garage on West Main Street. But Huffmans too, Brigham noted, is dealing with runoff that defies logic and recent memory.
“I know this is like a once in a 50 year thing, but something is changing here,” said Brigham. It’s escalating, and we don’t know why.” On Aug. 3, there was also significant erosion of the access roads to the water and sewer plants and undermining of Main and Second streets.
Brigham has been communicating with representatives of P. Joseph Lehman, an engineering firm based in Altoona, who have visited town and suggested that there might be grants available to address the highest priorities. The money would almost have to come from grants and other sources, council members agreed, because the limited “liquid fuels” funds the borough is holding on to are earmarked for snow removal.
“Even what we might find can’t fix five streets and seven drains,” said council member Kristy Fassett.
Council agreed to pursue an engineering study that both addresses priorities and provides cost estimates. Once that is done, they can start pursuing grants and other funding sources or determine what reserve funds could be tapped. Either way, they contend, the solution will be a long-term plan.
“The fix will not be easy and it will take time,” Brigham remarked. “We have to be patient and diligent.”
Before tabling the topic, he pressed the council for some short term solutions such as the purchase of a storage container in which basic tools and supplies can be kept for easier access at times of crisis. In addition to Braintrim Township, Brigham publicly thanked Laceyville resident Ulysses Orelleno, who offered a pile of millings, soil and modified stone on his property that was also used for the construction of the levy.
“Now that we’ve done it, we know what we need for future disasters,” Fassett stated with a sense of optimism. Council agreed to look for a suitable storage shed.
Other Matters of Discussion
The Elys stayed for the entire meeting, the first they’d attended, and asked other questions of the council. Bonnie wondered if anything could be done about what she deemed the “deplorable condition” of some of the homes in their neighborhood. Council members agreed that its very difficult in a small town to enforce ordinances to address property blight.
“Unfortunately, you can’t make someone paint their house,” Brigham offered as an example.
“And when they say they’re going to do renovations, we have to back off,” said Fassett. “Then they don’t do anything.”
Borough water manager Jaye Butler noted that he is having trouble communicating with water customers when he needs to read meters. He has been leaving calling cards at doors and sees that they’ve been removed, but the residents don’t bother to call him. Butler asked if notices could be mailed with water bills to let customers know that they could face disruption of services if they do not respond. Consequently, council agreed that an overall update in customer contact information was due in light of so many people dropping land lines in favor of cell phones.
Council agreed to draft a new landlord/tenant ordinance to ensure that the person who owns the property assumes responsibility for water and sewer bills. At the same time, landlords will be asked to release the names of tenants to them so that per capita taxes can be properly assessed. Borough treasurer Ken Johnson agreed to prepare a draft of the ordinance for final approval by the council.
New signage for two of the borough’s parks has arrived and will be installed by council member Henry Laboranti this weekend. They include regulations and Laboranti’s phone number in case someone is interested in camping overnight. The total cost was under two hundred dollars, he noted, which he had already paid and asked the council to accept as a donation in light of the borough’s budget issues. Council approved the contribution.