– Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna), along with other lawmakers from the Northern Tier and across Pennsylvania, are sponsoring a package of bills that would give local governments greater control over waterway improvements that help to prevent flooding and protect lives and property.
The eight-bill package grew out of testimony gathered during a House Majority Policy Committee hearing held in Tioga County in December regarding the challenges faced by communities in addressing stream maintenance issues. Pickett and other committee members heard from county and local officials in Tioga and Bradford counties; conservation officials from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and local conservation districts; and farmers and landowners.
Pickett is the prime sponsor of House Bill 2405
, which would create a program that allows counties to opt in to address hazards within their streams by allowing for emergency maintenance permits in consultation with their county conservation district. This is modeled after a pilot project that has proven to be successful in Bradford County.
“The pilot program was developed to bring the authority over waterway maintenance to a more local level instead of relying on DEP staff who are unlikely to live in the area or understand the unique nature of the situation,” said Pickett. “Our goal through this legislation is to give community officials the authority to resolve any stream issues that may threaten lives and property.”
Other proposals in the legislative package include:
House Bill 2404
(Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter): Would allow local government organizations to apply for a permit for continuing maintenance for a period of at least 10 years for the streams within their jurisdiction. This permit would grant an affirmative duty to the local government entity to properly maintain the streams and would not require the local government to get pre-approval for maintenance projects.
House Bill 2406
(Rep. Jonathan Fritz, R-Susquehanna/Wayne): Would create a permit specific to smaller maintenance projects for the mitigation of flood-related hazards of less than 250 linear feet. This permit would be reviewed and issued by the local county conservation district.
House Bill 2407
(Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Lycoming/Union): Would clarify that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has no authority for permitting or enforcement related to stream clearing or maintenance activities. This authority shall belong solely to DEP and the county conservation districts as appropriate.
House Bill 2408 (Rep. Mike Armanini, R-Clearfield/Elk): Would declare that no permit or authorization shall be required for maintenance activities conducted on a culvert.
House Bill 2409
(Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington): Would state that 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.
House Bill 2410
(Rep. Brian Smith, R-Jefferson/Indiana): Would state that no permit shall be required for stream maintenance activities conducted 50 feet or less upstream or downstream of a bridge or culvert.
House Bill 2411
(Rep. John Hershey, R-Mifflin/Juniata/Franklin): Would require DEP to issue an annual report to the General Assembly regarding flooding and stream maintenance and restoration.
“The response to the Policy Committee hearing was tremendous, and the testimony presented made it clear that one of the biggest challenges our communities face with stream clearing is a cumbersome and time-consuming permitting process,” said Owlett, who hosted the December hearing. “With this package of bills, we aim to streamline permitting to ensure our communities are able to properly maintain our creeks and streams to minimize the risk to lives and property in the event of excessive rainfall.”
The legislative package is expected to be introduced this week in the House of Representatives.