The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 3, 2013

Portage runoff causes concern

PORTAGE — It’s been a wet summer, and some Portage residents are certainly feeling washed out. Concerns about stormwater management were brought before the Portage Township Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Resident Bob Brickley of Robel Road pleaded with the board to enforce an ordinance that would keep water flow from crossing his street and filling nearby embankments to the brim.

“The liability that Portage Township has right now is beyond belief,” he said.

He told The Tribune-Democrat he knows of at least five areas where a car could be almost entirely submerged if it slipped off the roadway. He said it’s all coming from a nearby farm, claiming the farmowners raised a line of land running parallel to the road.

According to Brickley, who said he’s owned his house on Robel Road since 1994 without any stormwater incidents, he’s spoken about the problem with representatives from the Natural Resource Conservation District, an agricultural ombudsman – a rep from the Cambria County Conservation District even came to his house.

“All admit there’s a problem up there – none of them say they can enforce it,” he said.

They told him they can’t supercede the township’s authority. Section 105-D of the stormwater ordinance also states agricultural operations are exempt from stormwater enforcement, but that’s only if they have an erosion and sedimentation plan in place. The farm does not.

But Supervisor Rick Olshavsky and Township Solicitor Calvin Webb said not only are there many obstacles to getting crews out to examine each flooded scene, it’s been a nearly nonstop rainy season.

“Every municipality seems to be having a bigger problem with runoff during these downpours,” Webb said. “If you have an area that was bad in the past, it’s terrible now.”

Olshavsky said township engineers have already been to Brickley’s property and devised a plan, but the manpower allotted to the township means the work might not get done right away. The board explained to Brickley that subcontracting is an unneeded expense, especially if the township already has the means, and piping all the problem areas is too cost-prohibitive.

“The practical problem for townships is, when you look at the amount of road and mileage, none of them have the manpower to take care of it,” Webb said. “You’d have to have taxes through the roof.”

Webb said the township could be liable for damages sustained by a car splashing into a flooded embankment or open runoff ditch, but only if it was man-made.

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