Ford City Residents Attend Town Meeting on Flood Insurance Issues

Town Meeting Presenters Teri Provost and Bill Seigel discuss Ford City’s designation of being in a flood plain as defined by the federal government. The town meeting was held last night at the Latin American Club on Third Avenue.

Ed was going to buy a house in Ford City from John (the story is true; the names were changed to protect the innocent). However, when Ed found out that most of downtown Ford City was in a flood plain, his bank would require flood insurance. The cost of that insurance was going to be so astronomical, that Ed walked away from the deal.

The story is very real because most of downtown Ford City has been designated as being in a 100-year flood plain by the federal government.

Approximately 30 people gathered last night in a town meeting held at the Latin American Club to discover ways to deal with the problem. The meeting was conducted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission Water Resource Center with the primary goal of educating residents and town council members on what could be done both short-term and long-term in reducing costs of flood insurance.

Bill Seigel, Executive Director of SEDA Council of Governments, said changes made to the national flood insurance program came as a result of more frequent disasters that have occurred over the decade. Because of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the government program is $30 billion in debt and is increasing premiums as much as 18% each year.

“With the changing cost of flood insurance, it is beginning to have a critical impact on the tax base in our communities. These types of meetings grew out of the need to educate communities on how to protect that tax base revenue property values.”

Seigel said that when property owners have to pay escalating insurance premiums, they are often forced to cut back the ability to maintain their property, eventually creating blight conditions.

Ford City has a unique situation, according to former councilman Lou Vergari and current councilman Marc Mantini. Mantini said that the only flood that has affected Ford City was in 1913. They explained during the meeting that then John Ford created a levy system to protect the town and his manufacturing facility from a major flood.

Bill Seigel said grant money could be obtained to redesign the current 100-year-old flood control levy in Ford City to meet current standards. 

Seigel said that although the flood control system may be still operative, it has not been certified by the Army Corps of Engineers. Without that certification, 63.6% of Ford City remains in the flood plain.

Seigel gave the illustration of the 1972 Hurricane Agnes flood that devastated Bloomsburg, PA. That town began working to create a flood control system and finished it only two years ago at a cost of $30 million. He said the federal government kept rejecting water volumes that pumps could handle, and then made it mandatory that redundant pumps be also installed in case a primary failed. He said that although Ford City feels their levy to be adequate, it will not meet today’s requirements of certification.

Council President Carol Fenyes said that Ford City will spend more than $300,000 this year to install check valves in five of the ten outflow pipes as one more measure of reducing the possibility of a flood due to high water levels of the Allegheny River coming back up storm sewers.

Seigel said that if Ford City continues to take a pro-active roll,  they will be able to get funding because the community is engaged in the process. He indicated that in every instance, the state and federal agencies want to know what the community has done to help themselves. “Community engagement is vital,” he said.

Presenter Teri Provost said the most important thing that can be done by the council is to create a task force to address the issues.

“We are working across the state with sister agencies on developing task forces that will grow out of this meeting. We talk about individual things we can do to educate and make residents more aware of things they need to do to help themselves and the community.”

During the past month, the SPC has conducted a survey in which 20% of the town responded. Here are some results of that survey:

  • 165 said their house was older than 50 years. All of those homes had basements or crawl spaces.
  • 74 of the houses had a mortgage.
  • 108 respondents had no idea if their property was considered to be in the flood plain.
  • 36 properties are currently carrying flood insurance.
  • 135 stated their home was never flooded.
  • 142 were unaware of changes made in flood insurance coverage costs.
  • 62 said that flood insurance costs would impact their ability to remain in or maintain their structure.

Additionally, Provost said the population of 2,812 people in Ford City are housed in 1,688 units. A total of 22.6% have income below the poverty line, with the median household income at $32,070 annually.

“Those properties which were built before the flood plain maps were drawn tend to all pay the same rate,” Provost said. “We covered the difference between private flood insurance and the national flood insurance program. There are simple things we can do if we know about them. It’s all about education.”

Provost discussed ways to reduce or in some cases eliminate flood insurance costs, including applying for an Elevation Certificate. Applications are available at the borough office.

Fenyes felt the information provided was very informative.

“I was pleased that we had as many people here as we did. I would have obviously loved to have seen more. It’s a good beginning for our efforts toward flood mitigation to get a task force together who can really concentrate on helping the community find relief.”

Fenyes has already asked individuals to serve on the task force.

“There is a realtor, a surveyor, contractor, landlord, and previous council member. With the survey there were eight more that volunteered. So we should have a good representation on the task force,” Fenyes said.

Anyone wishing to obtain more information or wanting to serve on the task force may contact the borough office at 724-763-3081.

Bill Seigel takes questions from the community about their flood insurance rates and the need for a task force to deal with flood mitigation.