Port’s Main Street is back in the flood zone

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— A year af­ter is­su­ing a flood in­surance rate map that ex­cluded a por­tion of Main Street, fed­eral of­fi­cials have re­versed their de­ci­sion.

In a let­ter to Port De­posit Mayor Wayne Tome, Richard Pier­son, a se­nior project en­gi­neer in the mit­i­ga­tion divi­sion of the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, ac­knowl­edged a mis­take made in de­vis­ing the ar­eas where flood­ing would take place, known as the Spe­cial Flood Haz­ard Area.

“The cur­rent FIRM (Flood In­surance Rate Map) for Ce­cil County, which be­came ef­fec­tive in May 2015, shows many ar­eas within the town of Port De­posit that are sub­ject to flood­ing as not within the SFHA,” Pier­son’s let­ter reads, not­ing that the de­lin­eation came from where coastal flood­ing was likely rather than “other flood­ing ef­fects from the Susque­hanna River.”

Port De­posit is not af­fected by coastal flood­ing, the mayor said, adding the in­un­da­tion comes from pre­cip­i­ta­tion to the north.

“Ob­vi­ously, we should be in there,” Tome said of the flood zone des­ig­na­tion. “It floods sig­nif­i­cantly.”

Wil­liam Pow­ell, FEMA spokesman, said the agency doesn’t look at his­tory when de­ter­min­ing risk.

PORT DE­POSIT

Flood wa­ters be­gin to re­cede in Port De­posit in the days af­ter Trop­i­cal Storm Lee struck in 2011. Rain­fall to the north in the Susque­hanna River basin is the pri­mary cause of flood­ing in town.

“His­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence is con­sid­ered in map­ping for flood risk, how­ever, it is not used to de­ter­mine what the risk will be,” Pow­ell said via email. “Flood maps are based off of the risk of a fu­ture event oc­cur­ring, not past oc­cur­rences of flood­ing.”

Pow­ell said the data cen­ters around a 100-year flood event.

“We hope to pro­vide an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of risk so res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ties can be in­formed,” he said. “These analy­ses found that the flood map in­ac­cu­rately cap­tured the flood risk fac­ing Port De­posit and was based on coastal Still­wa­ter el­e­va­tion data, not nec­es­sar­ily data cap­tured from the Susque­hanna River and river­ine flood­ing.”

“Due to this new data,

the maps will be re­vised to re­flect the more ac­cu­rate flood risk fac­ing Port De­posit and the im­pacts on the cur­rent Spe­cial Flood Haz­ard Area (SFHA) and flood prone ar­eas,” Pow­ell added.

The maps, which had to be signed in ev­ery town and at the county level, ac­knowl­edged threat zones and made it clear that res­i­dents in those zones had to have in­surance if they ex­pected help af­ter a dis­as­ter.

Tome said Thurs­day that he and mem­bers of the town coun­cil were dumb­struck last year when re­ceiv­ing word that the sec­tion of Port De­posit most likely to be­come in­un­dated was not deemed a threat.

“We were like, ‘ Huh? Re­ally? That doesn’t make sense,’” the mayor said.

At the same time, he re- calls urg­ing res­i­dents to keep or ob­tain those flood poli­cies re­gard­less.

“We told res­i­dents even though they pulled us out they should still get in­surance,” Tome said.

The last sig­nif­i­cant event fol­lowed Trop­i­cal Storm Lee in 2011.

In re­cent years, he noted, the town has had more flood ar­eas sur­face and creeks that were not a threat be­fore are now leav­ing their banks. Tome points to de­velop- ment out­side town lim­its.

“With Rock Run, it seems to run a lit­tle bit higher be­cause there’s more im­per­vi­ous sur­face with all the houses at Lib­erty Grove Road,” he said.

Port De­posit’s main source of flood­ing re­mains heavy rain up­river though.

“It’s runoff from Penn­syl­va­nia and the Susque­hanna,” he said.

Exelon Gen­er­a­tion, oper­a­tors of the Conowingo Dam, now have a no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in place to let Port De­posit know when to ex­pect how much wa­ter in re­la­tion to the num­ber of crest gates opened on the hy­dro­elec­tric fa­cil­ity that also car­ries traf­fic on Route 1 across the Susque­hanna north of town.

Wa­ter be­gins to ar­rive in town when at least 20 of the 53 gates have been opened. The util­ity de­vised the sys­tem af­ter a 1996 ice dam cre­ated a record flood event. Town of­fi­cials were un­aware of the ap­proach­ing prob­lem.

A Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion project set to be­gin later this year to re­di­rect stormwa­ter could help, Tome added. A sys­tem of check valves to be in­stalled would keep the river from flow­ing back into town.

“We put some of these (check valves) in years ago, but peo­ple stole them for scrap,” he said, not­ing that in­cluded the largest of the valves at Van­nort Drive.

FEMA has an on­line map­ping sys­tem at https://msc. fema.gov/por­tal that al­lows res­i­dents to find out if their prop­erty is in a flood zone. The new map has not been posted yet. The 2015 map shows the flood zone end­ing around Rock Run. Ac­cord­ing to Pow­ell, the new map would be­come ef­fec­tive Aug. 1.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HSCC

North East and Wa­ter Witch fire­fight­ers carry a Port De­posit man to dry ground af­ter res­cu­ing him from a North Main Street home af­ter flood wa­ter from the Susque­hanna River took over the town Satur­day, Jan. 20, 1996. It was this situation that brought about the need for a tiered emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem at the Conowingo Dam.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

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