PA Gov Tom Wolf file

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf addresses reporters Dec. 2, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday the state must bolster its infrastructure funding as flooding wreaks havoc on homeowners and small businesses unable to access federal assistance.

More than 5,000 homes suffered flood damage across the state in 2018, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said, and none qualified for federal rehabilitation, leaving property owners with few options for recovery. Statewide, infrastructure suffered $63 million in damages that year, but still fell short of the threshold for requesting federal aid. 

“That’s just not going to work anymore,” Wolf said. “The world has changed dramatically and the climate has changed dramatically.”

Without a clear legislative path forward, however, the governor announced an executive order Wednesday that directs the State Planning Board to develop recommendations for land use, planning, zoning and stormwater management with “an emphasis” on reducing flash flooding. The board will also establish “strategic investments” to help municipalities.

“Pennsylvania has seen a 10 percent increase in precipitation over the last 50 years, and by 2050 it will be 8 percent higher than it is now,” said Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia. “Our flood mitigation strategy has not kept up with the changing precipitation patterns.”

Williams said residents in his district, which spans parts of Philadelphia and Delaware counties near the Darby Creek, deal with flash flooding on a consistent basis as changing weather patterns bring more severe storms through the region. He said state legislators need to put politics aside and pass a comprehensive infrastructure funding plan that helps residents cover the damages associated with these smaller scale storms that don’t qualify for federal help.

“Are we behind? We’re not behind,” he said. “We are woefully behind and dangerously behind when it comes to public safety, private homes and businesses.”

Earlier this year, Wolf proposed borrowing $4.5 billion as part of his Restore Pennsylvania plan to fund upgrades to flood walls and levees, replace high-hazard dams, and conduct stream restoration and maintenance, as well as establish a disaster relief trust fund to assist residents for losses not eligible for federal aid.

But the plan lacks bipartisan support because it also imposes a natural gas severance tax – something Republicans argue already exists in the former of a statewide drilling impact fee.

“We cannot depend on federal aid as a reliable source of funding to recover from disasters, since the thresholds to qualify for assistance increase every year,” PEMA Director Randy Padfield said. “Federal data shows that every dollar spent on mitigation saves on average, six dollars in recovery, so mitigation not only saves lives and property but it’s also the fiscally smart thing to do.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.