Residents in low-lying areas of Wyoming County were relieved the Tunkhannock Creek and Susquehanna River crested lower than initially expected Saturday.
“We were lucky,” County EMA Director Gene Dziak said.
Early projections for torrential downpours on Christmas Eve, were on the mark, so much so that an ecumenical service originally planned for Tunkhannock Borough in the the parking lot behind Triton Hose Company, using an available radio channel, had to be cancelled.
A similar service in Nicholson on Dec. 23, was uneventful weather-wise. Participants there just had to deal with substantial snow still left on the ground from the major snowfall, Dec. 16-17, that left 12-20 inches of the white stuff, much of it not melted by Dec. 23.
The National Weather Service had projected Thursday that the Tunkhannock Creek would crest at 1 p.m., Friday, Christmas Day, at 10.6 feet, which was about 9 feet under what was experienced in 1996 when a Lazy Brook subdivision of homes took so much water that today a FEMA buyout has left the succeeding generation with a phenomenal recreational park, also known as Lazy Brook.
Over in Meshoppen, the National Weather Service had projected that the Susquehanna River would crest at 1 a.m., Saturday, at 37.2 feet, which would have been the worst flooding since 2011, but about seven feet below its crest.
On Christmas morning, the NWS water gauge on the Tunkhannock Creek at Dixon was anticipating an 11-foot crest at Tunkhannock at 1 p.m. that day; and the NWS weather gauge at Meshoppen had been scaled back to a Susquehanna River crest of 33.9 feet, still at 1 a.m., Sunday.
Dziak said Meshoppen’s crest came in at 30, “which meant full bank, and we were ready for that. The problem with the forecasting,” he said was that no one was quite certain how much snow pack was out there.”
“We dodged the bullet on this one, and even though we were out monitoring all night, there were few close calls, with an attempted evacuation done on Bluegrass Lane in Eaton Township as a precautionary thing,” Dziak said. “We were also initially concerned about Horton’s Creek in Nicholson, but it all turned out.
Around 1:40 p.m., on Dec. 24, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency sent out an alert regarding severe weather and flooding threat with expectations of major river flooding because of significant snow accumulations that had not yet melted.
Then later in the afternoon the National Weather Service warned about substantial flooding below Tunkhannock that included Noxen, Forkston, Kasson Brook, Evans Falls, Beaumont, Lovelton, Vernon, Stull, Centermoreland and Stowell.
PennDOT reported flooding across the region, with roads closed including Wilson Road in Noxen Township due to flooding; Rt. 92 in Exeter Twp., due to downed power lines; and Rt. 87 in Mehoopany due to a fallen tree in the road. Intermittent power outages were also experienced.
As for the system moving into our region this coming weekend, Dziak said it won’t be anywhere near as bad.
“We’re expecting some snow and freezing rain turning over to rain on Friday,” he said. “It will be slick in places, so folks need to watch out for that. But, we’re only expecting about an inch of rain from that. We can handle that.”
2020 was a year that many people would like to forget. This year created hardships for lots of people with the COVID-19 pandemic creating times of sickness, loneliness and isolation. Having to lead a community through these trying times could be almost an impossible task, yet, that’s what Wyoming County’s mayors went through this year.
The county’s five mayors all had a common theme of trying to help local businesses, especially restaurants and entertainment venues, to stay on their feet within the state’s pandemic restrictions.
“The overall impact of the restrictions has been very challenging on all of the local businesses,” Nicholson Mayor Charles Litwin Jr. said. “The hardest part, though, was trying to keep all of the residents in good spirits with everything going on, and letting them know that it’s not going to be like this forever.”
Meshoppen Mayor Bruce Marshall, who is a self-employed contractor, said the challenges have been rough for everyone.
“This has been the year from Hell for us,” Marshall said. “The shutdowns have hurt us beyond belief. A lot of people were wondering if they’ll be able to keep the lights on.”
Factoryville Mayor Gary Evans, said that even though the year was challenging, his borough kept moving forward as best as it could.
“Even with having to social distance and stay apart, Factoryville still functioned very well,” Evans said. “We started our sewage plant upgrade project, which is big for us. We had a couple roadblocks with projects being delayed, but it’s going to be okay.”
Even with all of the delays, the county boroughs were still able to start and complete a lot of projects this year.
Tunkhannock Mayor Stacy Huber said that his borough’s biggest project, the UGI Get Gas Project, is going on as planned and will continue into 2021. Tunkhannock was also able to buy a new police vehicle using a $10,000 grant from Williams Company, and hired Richard Stevens as a full time police officer.
Laceyville Mayor Randy Brigham applauded the work of his borough council for getting the ground started on building a new public playground that hopefully kids will be able to use next spring, and starting a successful food pantry for his residents who were/are in need.
“Even with all of the hardships, I consider the Laceyville food pantry one of our biggest accomplishments,” Brigham said. “It really opened my eyes when I saw how many people were utilizing it as to the struggles that everyone was going through, but it also shows a strong community connection.”
A strong bond is something that all of the mayors agreed was one of the bright spots of 2020.
“The folks in the borough and the surrounding communities have all come together to get people through this,” Litwin said. “They have been trying to keep up the good spirits as best as they could.”
As 2020 gets left in the rear view mirror, the area leaders look ahead to 2021. Each of the mayors are taking different approaches, but look to get more improvement projects up and running, and most important, a sense of normalcy.
Marshall said that although he hopes to get back to normal, he is going to be taking things slowly to start the year.
“Meshoppen is just going to play everything day-by-day, because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring,” Marshall said. “We’ll be going full speed ahead when the pandemic is over, and hopefully that is sooner rather than later.”
Huber is taking the same day-by-day approach.
“We are taking a cautious fiscal approach, as we are still in the grip of the pandemic and its currently uncertain financial impact,” Huber said. “We are hopeful for a much better year in 2021 – one that will not have the death, hardship, and sadness of so many; but which will allow our neighbors as well as our shops and businesses to regroup and restore their lives and businesses.”
“Hopefully we see the return of our Civic Club Golf Tournament in the summer, and our Holiday Christmas Market, which we couldn’t have this year,” Evans said. “It’s going to be okay, we’re going to get back to normal and be able to see each other again.”
Brigham had some closing words for his residents on how to look at the approaching year.
“Every day, you have to wake up and say ‘I’m going to have a wonderful day no matter what the circumstances are,’” he said. “That will be the key to making 2021 the best year possible, which we plan on doing.”
The Tunkhannock Creek, a local body of water which many area residents take for granted as they cross it en route to work and other routines, is a finalist for Pennsylvania ‘River of the Year,’ in a contest endorsed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
DCNR has funded the 'River of the Year' contest since 1983 for the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
“The creek speaks for itself in terms of beauty,” Endless Mountains Heritage Region Director Cain Chamberlain said. “Winning this award would mean a great deal to people working on conservation efforts, so we hope people get out and vote.”
Seared in the public consciousness 105 years ago by the massive Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, or Nicholson Bridge, the creek has sustained people for thousands of years.
How do we know?
Nicholson residents Hugh and Norman Saxton, during much of the 20th Century, worked in the shadows of the largest reinforced concrete bridge in the world collecting more than 2,500 Native American artifacts that reveal generations of people sustained by the creek.
The Tunkhannock Creek is in reality three creeks — the main stem, the east branch and the south branch.
The main stem begins at Cheraine Pond in Jackson Township, Susquehanna County, and flows through 42 miles of mostly rural countryside leaving its imprint on places like Jackson, Gelatt, Smiley, South Gibson, Glenwood, Nicholson, Starkville, East Lemon and Dixon, and on down to Tunkhannock, which itself means the meeting of waters. It is there, where the creek joins the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, which was named River of the Year in 2016.
The East Branch of the Tunkhannock Creek begins at Ross Lake in Herrick Township and finds its way down stream along Elk Mountain which supports a ski resort before sustaining places like Clifford, Lenoxville and joins the main stem just below Glenwood, covering a distance of about 19 miles.
The South Branch of the Tunkhannock Creek is about a 22-mile waterway that emerges near Montdale at Chapman Lake and flows west through places like East Benton, Wallsville, Factoryville, and Bardwell where it joins forces with the main stem near the present site of Deer Park Lumber. and just below that site is LazyBrook Park which had its genesis in the ferocity of a flooding event in 1996 that wreaked severe havoc on a former housing subdivision.
The South Branch yields some of the best opportunities for recreation, particularly after it was dammed up in 1968 to form Lackawanna Lake at Lackawanna State Park, which was dedicated in 1972. The creek also borders the Keystone College campus which has turned it into something of an outdoor classroom while also fostering world-class trout fishing. Hiking among the glacial deposits at Little Rocky Gorge is also not to be missed.
Valerie Titus, Keystone assistant professor of wildlife and environmental biology, notes that one cannot underestimate the value of hands-on field experience and is excited for her charges of the possibility of new found attention that winning the ‘River of the Year’ competition could bring.
Long utilized as an in-service training space for the region’s ecology teachers, Titus said she hopes more people will take care of a precious asset she realizes some people take for granted.
Bill Kern, director of the Countryside Conservancy, which takes care of a lot of the Tunkhannock Creek’s conservation efforts, said that winning the award could help make the creek more accessible to lots of people for years to come.
“Protecting the land around the creek is a main priority of ours,” Kern said. “All the land by the creek is land that we are protecting. Maintaining the water quality is also a huge point of focus for us, something that the grant money will help us a lot with.”
If the Tunkhannock Creek gets the most votes, EMHR will receive a $10,000 grant to help fund conservation efforts, and host activities in the spring and summer, something that Chamberlain is already planning.
“We know that kayaking is a big activity, so if the creek wins, EMHR wants to have some sort of paddling event,” Chamberlain said. “It would be fun for lots of people and a celebration for a big honor.”
Kern also has said that some of the money from the grant will be used for conservation projects, such as a conservation easement, which has already started to take place in Susquehanna County. Conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.
“It’s a special body of water that means a lot to a lot of people,” Kern said. “The conservatory has done a pretty good job of taking care of it, but this grant will allow us to do even more things.”
Chamberlain added, “I think winning would mean a great deal to a lot of people working on the conservation efforts. That stretch of water has a lot of history, and it’s something that we want to be able to have people enjoy for a very long time.”
Tunkhannock Creek is one of five finalists along with the Lehigh River, Shenango River, Buffalo Creek, and Loyalhanna Creek. Online voting continues through Friday, Jan. 22. You can vote online at www.pariveroftheyear.org/2021-river-of-the-year/vote-for-a-2021-river-of-the-year. You must have a valid email address to vote, and one vote is allowed per email.
“There are a lot of people locally who are extremely passionate about this place and what it brings to the area,” Kern said. “All I can say to them is get out and vote.”
Clinton Township Supervisors and Nicholson Borough Council recently sent out a letter to Clinton Township residents about revisions being made to the joint zoning ordinance that Clinton Township shares with Nicholson Borough.
The letter has caused great concerns among residents, especially along the Route 107 corridor near the Norfolk Southern Railroad, which is now being proposed as a commercial district.
Bob Pawlukovich owns a farm that is near the railroad. He was shocked when he received the letter.
“The residents all thought that this zoning project was done last year,” Pawlukovich said, “Most of the people didn’t know about this. I have a farm, and there’s no need for any zoning changes in this area.”
Residents are concerned about an area on Route 107 back by the railroad owned by Diaz Oil. The concern is over whether Diaz Oil will allow Norfolk Southern Railway to use the area for gas waste disposal, which Pawlukovich said could cause environmental harm.
“Gas waste being dumped in that area gives me a lot of concerns about my farm,” he added. “It could do a lot to the air quality, the water on my farm runs within 75 feet of Norfolk Southern, and that creek runs down by Trail Elementary School. Unhealthy air and water quality is not good for anyone.”
Area leaders are encouraging their residents not to be worried about the possible changes. Clinton Township Zoning Officer Gary Evans said that hazardous materials will not be dumped in that area.
“The zone is going to be commercial, and the proposed zone will not allow hazardous materials to be transported or dumped,” Evans said. “No one has to worry about that.”
As to what Diaz Oil is going to be doing with the area, that is still undecided.
“Diaz does not currently have any plans as to what they want to do with the land yet,” Evans said. “They are still waiting to see if the zoning will be changed before any long-term plans are made.”
In the letter, the township stated it is also planning to change most properties from Creek Road to to the Tunkhannock Township line on the south of Route 6 from residential agricultural to commercial, which will not affect a property owner’s taxes.
Still, Pawlukovich said the land his farm sits on, should remain in the residential-agricultural classification, along with all of the other properties along the Route 107 corridor.
“The community is more important than one property,” Pawlukovich said. “And all of these zoning changes are only because of one property.”
A Clinton Township joint public meeting with Nicholson Borough to address the zoning changes will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m. at the Nicholson Borough Building.
Because of social distancing guidelines, only one member per household is asked to attend the meeting.
As of Tuesday, Dec. 29, at noon, Wyoming County has 759 positive cases of COVID-19, up 83 in the past week and 29 deaths. The death number has remained the same in the past week.
Statewide, there are 622,349 positive cases, with 14,718 deaths. To date, 7,312,858 tests have returned negative.
The following are cases in Wyoming County (and neighboring counties that share zip code), according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health:
Tunkhannock (18657): 324 confirmed, 2,279 not a case
Factoryville (18419): 80 confirmed, 914 not a case
Nicholson (18446): 61 confirmed, 611 not a case
Mehoopany (18629): 36 confirmed, 290 not a case
Laceyville (18623): 60 confirmed, 509 not a case
Meshoppen (18630): 47 confirmed, 536 not a case
Falls (18615): 47 confirmed, 364 not a case
Dalton: (18414): 110 confirmed, 1,251 not a case
Noxen (18636): 32 confirmed, 297 not a case
Harveys Lake (18618): 112 confirmed, 810 not a case
Dallas (18612): 1,605 confirmed, 5,557 not a case
Dushore (18614): 38 confirmed, 416 not a case
Some zip codes overlap into surrounding counties.
Cases by county and zip code, as well as other resources related to COVID-19, are available online at www.health.pa.gov.