Council members say flood ordinance bullies ‘the little guys’

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Two members of Punxsutawney Borough Council have voted against advertising a new FEMA flood map ordinance.

But Monday, Solicitor Jay Lundy said council is obligated to approve the ordinance or risk losing flood insurance.

With a 5-2 vote, council approved a motion to advertise Ordinance No. 1115, with council members Eric Story and Toby Santik voting no.

Story said he read the new ordinance handed down by FEMA, which he said is word-for-word the same as the borough’s current ordinance, with the exception of two parts.

Story said the one change is council must appoint a flood plain administrator, who would be the code enforcement officer. The second change in the ordinance is the borough must conform to the unified building code set by the state, he said.

“I don’t see how we can get out of this,” Story said. “My problem is the letter that FEMA sent along with the new ordinance, threatening us to enact the new ordinance by March 15 or the people in Punxsy will lose their flood insurance. I think it’s wrong that the state and federal government can extort a borough or township into passing a new ordinance.”

Story said he didn’t want to see anyone lose his or her flood insurance because of this, and that these changes are the result of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Council member William Spencer said not too many people in Punxsutawney have flood insurance, and that following Punxsy’s 1996 flood, he fixed all 13 of his properties without flood insurance.

Santik asked if the borough would not receive flood insurance for the sewage treatment plant if the new ordinance wasn’t passed. Borough Secretary Mary Neal said the sewage treatment plant already has flood insurance.

But Santik said if the new ordinance isn’t passed, the sewage plant would lose its flood insurance.

Story said 20 years ago, the borough was held hostage by a government agency and had to rebuild the sewage treatment plant to its specifications.

“If it does flood, the sewage plant is the first place to get hit, since it’s so close to the creek,” he said. Spencer replied that the sewage plant floods any time there’s high water because it’s at the lowest point.

“We’ll have to pass the ordinance, but we don’t have to like it,” Spencer said.

Santik said once again it was big government telling the little guys what to do.

Also at Monday’s meeting, council:
• Approved a motion to advertise for a part-time borough parks employee for the purpose of park maintenance during the spring and summer.

• Approved a motion to have the borough’s sewer-vactor truck refurbished by the manufacturer.

Borough Manager Ben White said the truck will be out of service for four to six weeks.

If an emergency arises, the borough has made an arrangement with the Sandy Township sewage department to use its truck.

• Approved a motion to appoint Russ Braun as Punxsutawney Borough Sewage Enforcement Officer (SEO) and Rich Palm as the alternate.

• Approved a motion to adopt a certificate of insurance requirements.

• Approved a motion to adopt Resolution 2012-2, the borough’s emergency operations plan and promulgation.

• Approved a motion for the borough to participate in the COSTARS salt contract through the state effective August through July 2013.

The borough is required to purchase at least 60 percent of the tonnage requirements.

The next council voting meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, March 12, in council chambers at the Mahoning East Civic Center.