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Muncy Historic District “at risk” in the Commonwealth

By Staff | Feb 25, 2015

PHOTO BY BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Because of its architectural structures and its era of prosperity - known as Muncy's "Golden Era" - from the mid 1800's - The Muncy Historic District (151.9 acres) was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It is now part of a list for Preservation Pennsylvania as one of the Commonwealth's most endangered historic resources.

MUNCY – At a Preservation Pennsylvania press conference on February 9 held at the Muncy Historical Society, the Muncy Historic District was highlighted in the organization’s annual list of endangered historic properties. It is listed to its ‘Pennsylvania At Risk’ list among six others in the Commonwealth and will become a priority for 2015. Lycoming County laid out plans to combat the continuing flood- insurance crisis that has triggered the Muncy district’s listing as being endangered.

Historic towns, such as Muncy, in particular are at a disadvantage because they were built at pre-floodplain standards, and are rated the same as new construction since most of the houses in the floodplain were built before the National Flood Insurance Program.

The next major flooding event could be around the corner, and the county planning team is getting ready to assist homeowners to help prepare for it. “The Lycoming County Planning and Community Development Department has been very active in addressing this issue,” said Kurt Hausammann, county planning director.

Mitigating, or flood proofing, structures is central to the plan and leads to saved lives, homes, and dollars. “The answer is to change the makeup of the structures in the floodplain to reduce damages so we don’t have people standing in the mud after floods,” said Fran McJunkin, county deputy director, GIS/Assessment. “If we can mitigate, we will lower the insurance cost and end greater damage.”

To that end, the county planning department is developing the Lycoming County Flood Mitigation Program, for which the county has received $850,000 of Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement (PHARE) funds from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

PHOTO PROVIDED Bill Poulton from the Muncy Historical Society addressed a press conference on Feb. 9 at the Museum on N. Main Street for the preservation of the Muncy Historic District.

The goal of the program is to address the impacts of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and help Lycoming County residents effectively face challenges presented by ever-changing flood-insurance rates.

In order to best define a solution, the planning department secured $100,000 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, plus a $25,000 county contribution, to do a study in Lycoming County to direct the wisest use of the PHARE funds. Partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

The county team also is working with local banks on a plan to find a means of affordable financing for property owners.

Additionally, the county is planning a spring trip to Washington, D.C. to address and advocate for the needs of local and regional river-town communities with local Congressional legislators. The goal will be to repeal the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and replace it with insurance rates which make more sense to the frequency of flooding found in the area.

“What we hear on the news (regarding flood insurance) is about rich summer beach homes being affected, but here, it’s modest homes and working families, and this flood- insurance issue is putting it over the top for them. We must get the message out,” Hausammann said.

In 1797 Muncy was built along the banks of the Susquehanna River which provided power and transportation. Now, as a result, 47 percent of Muncy homes and businesses (483 buildings) are located in the 100 year floodplain. Thus the drastic flood insurance increases are making it difficult to remain in the Muncy historic disrict. This change is not only threatening the historic district, but the economy as well.

Meanwhile, the Preservation Pennsylvania listing “Pennsylvania At Risk 2014” creates further awareness to the issue, and may help the county secure funding to help property owners. The list includes important resource types and common issues faced by historic properties according to Erin Hammerstedt from Preservation Pennsylvania. Changes in federal policies determining flood insurance premiums are needed in order for the Muncy Historic District to survive.

Muncy was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in September of 1979.