Study could lower or nix local flood insurance costs

FELICIA A. PETRO | Allied News

Water tables are low in Wolf Creek along Greenwood Drive in Grove City, which may soon make flood insurance a thing of the past for some residents upstream. 

An anticipated floodplain study along Wolf Creek is expected to reduce or eliminate flood insurance for residents in Pine Township and Grove City.

"We are grateful for this recent development," said Mike Coulter, a Pine Street resident in the borough who has normally paid more than $1,000 annually for flood insurance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If people build or buy homes in a floodplain – which are low-lying areas of earth that flood during periods of high water – FEMA requires the insurance for as long as there's a mortgage on the house.

Residents along Wolf Creek used to see more flooding until two dams along the waterway at North Street in Pine and East Main Street in Grove City were removed 11 and 12 years ago, respectively, and the waters have receded significantly. Since that time, the residents believe their insurance is no longer justified – or could at least be reduced.

The floodplain maps determine flood insurance rates through FEMA. Pine Street residents – with Coulter leading them as a former councilman – made initial inquiries about having the floodplain maps changed. The borough appealed FEMA on numerous occasions about revising the old maps based on the dams' removal, but the answer was always the same: FEMA required a successful engineering study to justify a revision, and the federal agency would not pay to test the waters.

In 2013, the borough and Pine split an $8,000 cost to have Gannett Fleming engineers in Coolspring Township do a cursory study of what the floodplain may look like today by comparing old paper maps with newer aerial maps by FEMA – as well as examining hydrogeological information. It determined that the official engineering study of the Wolf Creek floodplain would be successful, but neither the borough nor Pine officials could justify spending taxpayer dollars on it for a few citizens. Pine Street residents talked about paying for the study themselves. However, not every resident who would benefit wanted to chip in, causing the effort to go stale.

Some residents did surveys of their own properties. Coulter said he paid for an elevation survey last year, which determined that his home wouldn't be as water-logged after a flood as the old FEMA maps showed. His rate went from $1,300 to $400, which paid in savings for the study and elevation certificate required by FEMA as proof, he added. Coulter said he knew of two other residents who did elevation studies; one was successful and the other was not.

Larry Warner, owner of Warner Homes in Mercer, hoped to remove all or part of his Wolf Creek Ridge development in Pine from FEMA's flood zone. In October, supervisors approved a $29,400 check from Warner to fund the official engineering study with Gannett Fleming. It would affect a larger area along Wolf Creek that included Grove City and residents on Pine Street as well.

The money didn't include the balance of FEMA's expensive application fee for Gannett Fleming to submit its findings, so Warner ending up paying a total of "$35,000 out of my own pocket," he added on Friday.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, Pine supervisors showed Allied News a July 20 letter from FEMA written to chairman Joe Holmes, for the township, saying the flood insurance rate map had been revised for both Pine and Grove City. A copy of the letter was obtained by Allied News from Grove City on Thursday, as well as additional data and a revised floodplain map from FEMA of the study area. The borough also offered Gannett Fleming's original map with those changes to Allied.

The FEMA map – which can be viewed by searching Grove City or Pine Township at – examined the floodplain about a half-mile upstream from Wolf Creek Ridge (which is across from Grove City Medical Center on Sandy Lake Road) and past the borough's wastewater treatment plant off of Greenwood Drive downstream. It also studied Black Run from Wolf Creek to the hospital area.

The maps show most of Wolf Creek Ridge out of the flood zone, which Warner thought was "fabulous," he said. An area still shows a small portion of the development in the flood zone; however, it's a wetland, Warner said.

He is eager to develop nine remaining lots that wouldn't sell because they were in the floodplain, he added. The development has three homes now.

Properties just north of the development on an unidentified road, as well some at the end of Francis Street and Lee Avenue, are no longer in the floodplain, according to the maps. Some wooded areas along Wolf Creek in Pine, as well as an area of Woodland Cemetery are now out of the flood zone, too.

Dan Goncz, who did the engineering study for Pine, stated at last month's Grove City council meeting that the flood zone would be reduced the most in the borough along Pine Street from Park to Harvard streets. Goncz is also the borough's engineer.

The maps appears to have the former Penn Grove Hotel still in the floodplain on Pine Street – as well as some areas on Park closest to the old hotel and few other locations, such as backyards of homes along Wolf Creek. Yards and garages in floodplains don't need to be insured, said borough manager Vance Oakes. Pine Street itself from Park to Harvard remains in the floodplain because the road dips – but that doesn't affect residents, he added.

Coulter said there's about 15 houses on Pine Street that have traditionally been affected by the old floodplain maps.

A patch near Rainbow Bridge, the field house and walking area at the lower campus of Grove City College along Wolf Creek is out of the floodplain as well, according to the Gannett Fleming map. Oakes said much of the wastewater treatment plant is still in the floodplain, but the borough doesn't need insurance for the paid-off building.

FEMA's letter to Pine says the agency published a notice of the floodplain revisions in the U.S. government's Federal Register in Washington, D.C., and in the July 27 and Aug. 3 editions of Allied News. From last Wednesday's notice, the public will have 90 days to appeal FEMA's revisions.

"Any request for reconsideration must be based on scientific or technical data," it adds. The changes outlined in the study will be effective after any appeals are resolved after the 90 days elapses, it says.

The letter also encourages Pine to disseminate the information to the public "that describes the revision and explains how your community will provide the data and help interpret the (National Flood Insurance Program) maps," it says. "In that way, interested persons, such as property owners, insurance agents and mortgage lenders can benefit from the information."

The FEMA letter also says it has designated an officer to assist the community. Eugene K. Gruber, FEMA's director of the mitigation division in Region III, can be reached at 215-931-5512 in Philadelphia. According to the notice in Allied, 1-877-FEMA MAP (1-877-336-2627) can be called to obtain information about the floodplain map revision or to make an appeal.

Coulter said he was grateful to Warner for his contribution, believing his flood insurance and others' on Pine Street may now be eliminated. "It's unfortunate that it took such an expensive study," he added. 

"I tried to work an honest deal to help everyone out," Warner said. 

For more information, contact Pine Township at 724-458-7229 or Grove City at 724-458-7060, ext. 105. 

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