WEST PITTSTON – Federal officials are expected to inform borough officials today that the agency is extending the deadline for the borough to update its flood plain management plan.
At least one official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to meet with local officials today, at which time the announcement will be made, according to federal government sources.
FEMA in June threatened to place the borough on probationary status in the National Flood Insurance Program on Oct. 1 if the borough did not make adequate progress to correct flood plain management violations and program deficiencies. The extension is expected to give West Pittston until Dec. 21 to update its plan.
The deficiencies included the borough's failure to show flood victims were complying with FEMA requirements, such as elevating their utilities above the flood plain, after September 2011 flooding that devastated a large portion of the municipality. Probationary status could force flood insurance policyholders to pay a $50 premium surcharge.
Borough Council President Barry Hosier said the deadline extension was "fantastic" news.
"It's still tight, but we will work with that. We're doing everything we possibly can. We've jumped through hoops, we're doing everything they asked us for," Hosier said.
The news came as somewhat of a welcome relief after FEMA issued a press release on Friday that Hosier called "very upsetting."
The media release summed up West Pittston's situation with flood plain violations and the borough's potential placement on probationary status, prompting local officials to complain the release was unnecessary and stated nothing new.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey defended the borough and criticized FEMA in his own media announcement Friday, saying the agency's plan to put the borough on probationary status is "an unnecessary and counterproductive decision that won't improve the area's flood plan and could result in higher flood insurance rates for residents."
Casey on Friday said FEMA should work with the borough on a flood protection plan instead of "punishing" the community.
On Monday, Casey said he was pleased to hear of the deadline extension.
"Earlier this month, I asked FEMA to abandon its punitive approach towards West Pittston and begin to work cooperatively with the community, and I'm pleased that they're moving in that direction," Casey said in a written response.
"While a two-month extension is welcome news, all practical steps to avoid probation must be taken so that residents can have certainty in knowing that their flood insurance rates won't increase dramatically in the new year," Casey said.
Hosier said the borough's new code enforcement officer, William O'Donnell, is scheduled to meet sometime today with FEMA Mitigation Planner Nicole Lick so she can bring him up to speed on compliance issues.
Council hired O'Donnell a week ago, the same night council terminated the employment of Dominic Pepe as code enforcement officer. Several residents who obtained permits for repairing their homes after flooding had criticized Pepe for signing off on permits even though work didn't necessarily meet FEMA requirements.
That was one of the issues that landed the borough in hot water with FEMA and a factor in the borough's potential placement on probationary status in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Steve Mocarsky is a Times Leader staff writer. He may be reached at 570-970-7311.