7-2-2006 Can you hear me Mayor Tom?

With the Great Flood of 2006 now but a fading memory for those of us who were spared natureís wrath, all that remains for us to do is reflect upon how it impacted our lives, oh, and maybe debate exactly how much of what went on here was natureís fault versus man-made. While I know where I stand on that issue, I invite others to weigh in, too. What say yíall? Got an opinion worth sharing?

If youíre interested in reading how some other locals reacted to the recent dust-up with the Susquehanna, you can explore the following links:

Andy Palumbo

Gort 42

Another Monkey

Michelleís Weblog
(Warning: Words that Grammy would vociferously object to)

Bealeís Bites

Things at Kingís

After the television and newspaper folks, I think I had the best pictures to offer during the recent dodging of natureís version of a high-velocity shell, but, then again, I take pictures of practically everything I encounter. Remember, I once posted a picture of a neat beer bottle. And a oddly shaped stone. And a multi-colored paper clip. Letís not forget the dozens of pictures I posted of a $5 million hole. Just be happy you donít have to pay what I do to store all of those pictures at a place that really doesnít exist. Huh?

A photographer from one of our local papers once told me he visits my site just to check the pictures, and added that he wished he had the freedom to publish pictures at will like I do. Interesting. I never really thought about it like that. As long as I refrain from posting pictures of our local leaders wearing womenís undies while dancing with androgynous-looking freakazoids, I figure Iím good to continue on much as I have all these years. I think the worst picture I ever posted was one of a certain mayor singing karaoke after ingesting enough hops and barley to cause your average camelís hump to explode at the slightest touch. Although, there was that one of yet another mayor pointing a handgun at another person. Oh, and the parade float picture. And theÖ

I swear, itís a mystery to me why I havenít been turned into a hood ornament yet, but stay tuned on all of that.

Anyway, if weíre going to explore why major spikes in the riverís height are becoming more and more frequent of late, who better to collate with than a guy, Kayak Dude, who has made restoring the Susquehanna River to some semblance of itís originally pristine state his personal obsession of sorts.

Until our most recent kayaking adventure, I wasnít sure what he did for a living. When he first invited me to get out there on the river and educate myself in the process, he sounded like an environmentalist to me. Not the insane kind who chain themselves to trees as part of some asinine protest. Not the kind that protest at the entrances of nuclear power plants and then at the end of the day head on home to their climate-controlled rural mansions. Heís the rarest of rare of those who could be called environmentalists. He knows the issues, he knows what heís taking about and he works to affect much-needed changes by tapping into the proper channels. Unlike the great preponderance of those who portend to be working to correct some the wrongs we have perpetrated upon this planet of ours, heís an adult about it. Heís borderline unique.

He grew up in the Heights, studied some sort of environmental sciences in college, and works in an office somewhere that is totally unrelated to Earth sciences. He studied the water, ended up in an office, yet yearns to be on the water. During a recent phone conversation, in deference to his vast knowledge of the Susquehanna River, I referred to myself as an amateur environmentalist, which got him to chuckling right quick.

No, Iím not switching my political affiliation to the Green Party. No, Iím not going to buy an awful lot of dope, tie myself to a sickly-looking tree and strip naked until the United States Govmint returns the lot of us to living in grass-covered huts, eating nuts and berries quiche and traveling abroad by way of abnormally large German Shepherds. Although, if the rent-a-rob crowd would dispense with the illicit narcotics use and provide mucho amounts of free beer at their ridiculous protest events, I might give serious consideration to becoming a part-time organically-fed fruitcake. Anyway, what I was making reference to is that while I will always scoff at the silly notion that man is going to destroy the Earth by next Friday, we can and should do what we can where we can, but within reason.

See that? I may be near as old as dirt, but Iím not completely set in my ways.

Can we do better by the Susquehanna River? Sure we can.

And we must.

From the e-mail inbox Mark:

Caught your posts regarding the recent flooding on the Susquehanna. I followed the rising waters online at the USGS site, and based upon what I saw going on upstream, the decision to evacuate areas impacted by Agnes was 100% correct. Many upstream towns were hit harder this time than in 1972. The fact that the river near Sayre, Towanda and Meshoppen ( home of the formally unknown but now famous Chief Muckamucka ) crested after Wilkes-Barre is not something that happens too often. As I'm writing this, at least one upstream site is still above floodstage. And yes - for anyone who chooses to comment on this post - I am aware of the flood control dams in NY and their impact on the river. It's still unusual.

I drove up to Endless Mt. Outfitters on July 1st to pick up my new kayak, and even though it's been a couple of days since the rains stopped, there were sheets of water still flowing across Rte. 29 below Tunkhannock. The devastation to stream banks and properties along the way was unreal. I was pressed for time to get back home, but I did stop at a washed-out bridge near Sugar Hollow for a few pics.




Regarding your assessment of new development, stormwater runoff and flooding; you have a better handle on what's going on than the vast majority of folks out there. I wrote a letter a few years back that can still be found online at the CV site. They published it again in 2005, and a few days later you brought the following response to my attention:

Editor: I would like to respond to a recent letter to the editor by Don Williams claiming development will cause future flooding.

The problem cannot be blamed on only one thing. The process of old mountains losing their battle with the weather cannot be stopped, but uncontrolled construction in the watershed can. Uncontrolled development in the flood plain is also to blame for flooding. The repeated failures of sanitary sewer systems polluting the river are signs of a "fly, fix fly" culture.

An example of "fly, fix, fly" is the way NASA addressed the problem of lost heat tiles on the space shuttle. Tiles were lost on several missions. Since no one got killed, the way the problem was addressed was cheap and quick, replace them and let the mission fly again. It was only after astronauts got killed and the mission shut down that the extra money was found to develop a plan to check the condition of the tiles in space before re-entry.

The future success of the communities located near the river depends on understanding that maintaining the status quo and doing repairs every time the water comes up is a significant headwind to attracting future businesses and future growth. Everyone who wants to protect the river and be protected from it needs to work together.

Preventing storm water pollution requires that prior to any construction in the watershed, the project should have a storm water pollution prevention plan with a description of the receiving waters and outfalls, erosion and sedimentation controls, timing of controls and certification of compliance with state, local and federal regulations.

If it will truly take one billion dollars to prevent raw sewage from discharging into the river, then communities need to come together and support a full time facilities engineering management group to plan, design, build, operate and maintain the sanitary sewer systems to prevent them from degrading again to their existing condition.

Finally, the most difficult change in culture will be recognition that simply maintaining the existing flood protection system is not enough.

Promoting the future of our region will depend on long-term strategic plans to move people out of the flood plain.

Nick Souchik

Pittston Township

I pretty much agree with everything he said. The bottom line is that as we "develop" more land, and create drainage systems that move stormwater out of the streets and parking lots and into the nearest waterway ASAP, it's not going to get any better for those living downstream. For starters, talk to the folks in Shickshinny. As we discussed the other day, it is really not a matter of if the levees are topped - but when.

By the way, including your pics of the Susquehanna, every stream I saw on Saturday - including Bowman's Creek - was running high and brown. I intentionally stopped by the Tubs on Saturday to get a few pics. Obviously, it was running above normal, but the funny thing is - the water was almost crystal clear.


Think the lack of development in its watershed upstream had anything to do with that?

Dude, Iíd like to say I knew where you were going to go when I first laid eyes on that picture, but I did not. I didnít even recognize that the picture was taken at the Tubs. But while those raging waters looked a bit dangerous (NOT!), what I did think to myself was, Letís go skinny-dipping!

For those who might stupidly argue that paving hills of green black is not that big a deal, your pictures are worth a million words. And then some. As per usual, you done good.

As we discussed the other day, it is really not a matter of if the levees are topped - but when.

Thatís the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. Alright, Iíll admit I ripped that off from John Hughesí ďBreakfast Club.Ē

The scary thing is, while Tom Leighton, Steve Barrouk, Larry Newman, Skrep, Vodd Tonderheid, Ed Rendell, Paul Kanjorski, Kevin Blaum and plenty of unnamed private sector investors are working to bring untold economic development and the long-sought revitalization to Wilkes-Barre, nary a thought seems to be given to how quickly all of that progress could be swept away by the next unusual confluence of weather anomalies.

The entire lot of them have gone on the record as endorsing that horseís ass of a proposed inflatable dam while promising (?) us that weíll get around to storm water management at some later, still unannounced date.

I watched the videos of Tom Leighton speaking on both WBRE and WNEP as the river was rising fast. And quite honestly, he looked like he was going to faint. In my opinion, heís worked a few miracles during his short run as mayor, and he too knows as much. Despite the criticisms heís been forced to endure, he knows how many things heís done right, and how those things are just beginning to manifest themselves by way of some brick and mortar. And there he was standing before the cameras wondering if all of his hard work was going to be washed away and in all likelihood, never to be repeated.

Wilkes-Barre didnít dodge a bullet, as Iíve heard so many others say. What Wilkes-Barre dodged was a high-velocity cannon shot. A kill shot if you will. We got lucky. We were at the riverís mercy and fared much better than was predicted. Thank Allah.

SoÖwhat should we do about it? What should we do differently? What needs to be done to reduce the increasing danger the Susquehanna River presents to Wilkes-Barreís chances of reinventing itself?

For starters, not only Mayor Tom Leighton, but every other elected official that presently calls the Wyoming Valley home had better ask themselves why their home towns came perilously close to getting blown away by raging flood waters all over again, and then start looking to the brand spanking new hills of asphalt for the obvious answer?

If they refuse to seriously address the issue of proper stormwater management, the next flood of epic proportions remains a question of when, and not if.

Iím not trying to single out Tom Leighton by referring to him so often. What Iím trying to do is to get him to thinking more about why floods happen rather than where we will need to pile the sandbags, or what neighborhoods will need to be evacuated. The Susquehanna River has now seriously threatened our communities three times in three short years. So, what are we going to do in response?

Build even higher dikes?

Sorry, but thatís infuriatingly futile, completely short-sighted and steadfastly ignoring the obvious.

As we discussed the other day, it is really not a matter of if the levees are topped - but when.

Mayor Tom, please heed this warning from those who not only paddle the river, but grieve for the river and respect the fact that the river can erase all of this progress weíve waited a generation for in an instant. Please take the lead on this issue. Push this issue.

What happens upstream directly affects those who live downstream.

Can you hear me Mayor Tom?

Will the politics of unchecked economic development allow for that?

April 3, 2005

Black Diamond--April 3, 2005