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PA Officials Continue to Support Flood Relief Efforts

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

The Bloomsburg airport during the height of the floods

Over a month has passed since Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee damaged and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and many PA flood victims continue to struggle.

Legislators throughout the state are doing everything they can to accelerate the recovery process and prevent a repeat crisis.

They say good policy is good politics, and nowhere has that been more clear than during the aftermath of the flooding in central and northeastern PA

For example, Gov. Corbett saw a positive 35 point swing in his NEPA approval numbers before and after the crisis.

PoliticsPA took a look at the recent activities of some of the elected officials who have remained on the ground and visible as the region continues to recover.

Gov. Tom Corbett:

Corbett called on the House and Senate to hold hearings into the catastrophic flooding and underscored the importance of focusing on what can be done to reduce the odds of a repeat.

He told Bloomberg Businessweek “I want to take a thorough look. I think the House and Senate can help,” Corbett said Thursday in Pine Grove, where he toured flood damage. “I think some hearings on what we need to do to address this on a holistic aspect would be good to have here during the course of the fall and the winter.”

He speculated that intensive development and a lack of maintenance of storm drains might have amplified the severity of the flooding.  However, Corbett emphasized that even if PA relieves assistance from the federal government, it will not cover all disaster relief expenses.

“Even if we get 60 percent (from the federal government), where do we get the other 40 percent? We’re going to be looking for money,” he said.

Senator Bob Casey:

In a statement released on Saturday, Senator Casey called the approval of Public Assistance aid from FEMA crucial to the recovery from recent flooding due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

“With damage in Pennsylvania expected to run in the hundreds of millions of dollars and municipal budgets already stretched, federal assistance is necessary to help Pennsylvanians recover from the devastating floods,” said Senator Casey. “The damage I’ve witnessed across the affected portions of the state has reinforced the importance of ensuring all appropriate resources are available to help our citizens, businesses and communities recover.”

On Friday, Senator Casey called FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to urge quick approval of Pennsylvania’s request for Public Assistance.

Senator Casey is also encouraging the U.S. Small Business Administration to lower interest rates on disaster relief loans to make it easier for businesses to reopen, rehire and recover lost revenue.

The flood damaged places that Casey and other local officials have recently toured include: Montoursville, Indian Park, Route 180 on ramps that remain closed, the Lycoming Valley Railroad Bridge, Superior Plus Energy, Baker Insurance and the former site of Northern Lights Clothing.

In an interview with the Williamsport Sun Gazette, Casey expressed the impact seeing the damage first-hand has had on him.

“I feel an obligation as a representative of people of this state that continue to work on these challenges as we move ahead, whether it’s working with FEMA, PEMA, the Small Business Administration, state officials, state agencies, here at the county level,” Casey said. “I want to say how impressed I am with the work that has already been done here by the mayor and the county and so many others who have brought their time and attention and focus and expertise to what is the kind of devastation you see once very 50 years or many even once every 100 or more years,” Casey said.

Sen. Casey and his staff have been in contact with local, state and federal officials since the floods.  According to Casey’s Deputy Chief of Staff Larry Smar,  the Senator has been doing follow-up calls connecting state, county and municipal officials with representatives of FEMA, PEMA and SBA in addition to writing to President Obama regarding flood relief.  Casey hs also written Senate appropriators and leadership for adequate disaster assistance funding, for increased funding for flood forecasting and for federal highway administration disaster relief.

Rep. Lou Barletta

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) spoke about flood recovery efforts in Northeastern PA on the floor of the U.S. House on October 4th.  His emotional and heart-rending speech, included stories of individual PA families impacted by the catastrophic flooding.

Barletta emphasized that restoring American lives should take precedence over foreign policy.

“The United States of America is one of the most generous, compassionate countries when it comes to providing global aid.  This government has no problem sending money overseas to build roads and bridges and hospitals and schools in foreign countries.

“When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the United States is the first country to help rebuild.  But now that a disaster occurred right here in our own backyard, we need to start rebuilding here, first.  Let’s help Americans first.  We must restore American lives, save American businesses, and protect American jobs.  If we must, scale back foreign aid and help American citizens,” he said.

According to Barletta’s Communications Director Shawn Kelly, Bareltta will be voting in Washington this week, but he regularly meets with flood victims and municipal leaders from flooded communities when he is back in the district.  Staff members from Barletta’s district and Washington, D.C., offices continue to meet with flood victims and local officials.

“Rep. Barletta is taking the lead in terms of securing the necessary and appropriate response to the unprecedented flooding his constituents suffered in September. He is spearheading a bill that will lower the interest rates of all federal disaster relief loans – loans to both homeowners and business owners – to 1 percent for 30 years. Rep. Barletta has also received personal assurances from House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and others that the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania will receive federal help to recover from the flood,” said Kelly.

Barletta has also met with high-ranking officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the long-term flood protection plans.  He met with U.S. Army Corps Baltimore District Commander Colonel David Anderson and on September 21 Rep. Barletta asked the corp to conduct a study of the entire Susquehanna River, from New York to Maryland.  This results of this study will determine how it has changed as well as how the flood plains might have been impacted by development and flood protection projects over the years.

“Rep. Barletta will continue to talk with officials in the municipalities that have been affected by the flood, and he will continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a long-term, comprehensive flood protection strategy,” said Kelly.

Rep. Tom Marino

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Lycoming) is also working to ensure that municipalities and homeowners affected by the flood will receive federal relief as soon as possible.  On September 27, Marino spoke at the Crime Clinic of Greater Wilkes-Barr lunch at Wyoming Valley Country Club.  At this event he underscored the critical need for disaster relief in the areas of PA hard hit by last month’s flooding.

On September 26, the U.S. Senate reached a bipartisan deal preventing the government shutdown after FEMA declared there is enough money for disaster aid until the end of the fiscal year, which ended on Friday, September 30th.

Before the Senate vote on the 26th, FEMA had warned that emergency disaster relief would dry up.  In his speech at the Wyoming Valley Country Club Marino asserted that the funds must be distributed immediately.

“Miraculously, they found hundreds of millions of dollars they said they didn’t have,” Marino said. “It should be distributed immediately and I’m hoping in the next 48 hours or three to four days, the states will have that money and it’s going to be handed down to the county,” said Marino.

Marino is requesting a study to review the “entire flood plain on the East Coast.”

“We have to let people know this, if you live in a flood plain and you need to be bought out and the federal and state government needs to help in that area,” Marino said. “Or if you decide to stay, you’re not going to be able to get insurance. You’re staying there at your own peril and you can’t expect the taxpayers to bail you out the next time you need help. It’s just common sense.”

Just today. Marino forwarded FEMA information for flood victims on cleaning mold, mildew and bacteria, which are common following floods and other water damage.

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