In the shadow of a Middletown Twp. home that was elevated 14 feet to lessen flooding effects of the adjacent Neshaminy Creek, Bucks County Commissioners Robert G. Loughery, chairman, Charles H. Martin and Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, LCSW commemorated the end of an era on October 28. Joined by former commissioner and current U.S. Congressman Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) representatives and several home owners, the commissioners spoke of the many achievements of the $27.3 million public safety effort.
“It’s good to be here to recognize and celebrate a very, very successful home elevation program,” Chairman Loughery stated. “This is a process that started long before I was here. The purpose of this program was to help the flood victims who have suffered many, many damaging effects along the Neshaminy Creek.”
The elevation program included 10 elevation contractors, three demolition companies and five engineering firms. To date, it has facilitated 47 property buyouts and 85 home elevations, affecting a total of 132 residences that used to lie directly in harm’s way.
Commissioner Martin, who has served on the board since 1995, traced the history of the elevation project through the last three decades. He also pointed out that the elevated homes held up well during Superstorm Sandy – which hit the New Jersey short two years ago this week. He thanked those involved with the effort through its duration, including NRCS officials, elected politicians and County officials. The County administration of the project was spearheaded by the General Services department, former Quality Assurance Administrator Richard Manna, and current General Services Deputy Director Kevin Spencer. Commissioner Martin also thanked Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Bill Mitchell, Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush and members of the Bucks County Conservation District (BCCD).
“It’s really nice to be able to celebrate a government project that actually worked,” Commissioner Martin told an audience that included project engineers and others involved with the endeavor. “This was a great cooperative effort between the federal government and the county government, which enabled us to elevate and buy out properties. Flooding has been a historic Bucks County problem.”
Congressman Fitzpatrick was integral to the decision to develop the NRCS program rather than build a dam at Dark Hollow, located upstream from the news conference. He revisited the funding formula that allowed the elevations and demolitions to begin. “This project brought all levels of government together,” he explained. “The County brought an understanding of the local community… to find that common ground.” Throughout the process, the congressman “gained a lot of friends” during planning meetings, site visits and government business. “Over time, fewer and fewer families were affected (by flooding),” he added. “This is a model for other government programs.”
Commissioner Martin praised the congressman for “taking the lead in the (NRCS) program.” He also noted that public opinion “was almost equally divided” as to building the Dark Hollow dam. “Commissioners’ Meetings were pretty interesting back then,” he recalled.
Pennsylvania NRCS Conservationist Denise Coleman spoke of the project’s ability to “bring the community together.” She added that the NRCS is “in the business of helping people” and “facilitating small communities.” The project also reduced flood damage claims resulting from recent events such as Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.
The Neshaminy Creek Watershed covers approximately 150,000 acres in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The Bucks County NRCS Home Elevation Program focused primarily on the 18 miles of creek closest to the Delaware River. The following municipalities participated: Bensalem Township, Bristol Township, Buckingham Township, Hulmeville Borough, Lower Southampton Township, Middletown Township, Newtown Township, Northampton Township, Warwick Township and Wrightstown Township.
Speaking on behalf of the Neshaminy Creek Basin homeowners who mobilized their efforts to address ongoing flooding issues in their community, resident Sam Smith provided a brief narrative of his experiences with the NRCS effort.
“It’s been a long time, but I’m in awe to sit here and look at this,” Mr. Smith said. “As a homeowner, the impact of flooding is much reduced. We learned and learned and learned a lot.” He also praised the stormwater and emergency notification protocols that have been put in place by the County and municipal partners. “It’s just a matter of how many steps you want to climb,” he added.
One of the last homeowners to participate in the program was 45-year Hulmeville Borough resident Mary Johnson. Over the years, three times she and her family fled their home due to raging floodwaters. “I never thought our property would benefit from this program,” she stated. “I’m thrilled with the outcome.”