WILLIAMSPORT – After decades of basements flooded, debris buildup and yards being washed away, the dilemma of Grafius Run has risen to the level of state assistance, with an ask of $1.1 million placed within the state budget.
Should the funds be approved, they would be used for an assessment of the run and possibly a start on remediation efforts, according to Doug Hill, project development chief, bureau of waterways engineering with the state Department of Environment Protection.
Grafius Run flows along Bloomingrove Road, heading underground north of Williamsport toward Cochran Primary School and the UPMC Susquehanna Regional Medical Center.
Hill said he was contacted by the city after the 2018 flood, which caused an incredible amount of flooding throughout the neighborhood, sending sewage and waste into the streets, filling up homes and devastating the school playground. Hill ultimately decided the issue with the run rose to the level of state funds. The allocations will ultimately need to be approved with the budget, which could take a number of years, he added.
Flooding from the run has plagued the neighborhood for years, according to city officials. As the region has become more developed and climate change has caused harsher storms to hit the region, the problem has only grown worse, according to Megan Lehman, environmental community relations specialist with DEP.
Over 50 members of the community surrounding Grafius Run turned out Tuesday evening to receive an update from city and state officials about flood mitigation efforts.
“It is getting worse and sometimes more frequent,” said city Councilwoman Gerry Fausnaught. “Our hope is in you today,” she said to Patrick McDonnell, DEP secretary, who toured the run Tuesday.
Fausnaught, who lives near the run, said it’s an issue that has persisted for the past 40 to 50 years.
When waste and debris backs up and catches in the grate, the city uses a manned excavation machine to manually move it so the water can flow.
However, many residents complain that the machine is not manned during every storm and that the alarms set up to warn residents of an overflow do not always work.
The prospect of state funds are a big step forward for the city, but even with the addition of the fund allocation in the proposed state budget, funds would not be awarded for up to five years, Hill said.
But there is a faster way the region could receive funds, McDonnell said, advocating for Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore PA Act, which would allocate $4.5 billion toward infrastructure efforts throughout the state.
Funds of this caliber would pump more money into existing projects and give the local efforts the backing they need to fix major problems, McDonnell said. The act is currently in committee and while it is believed to have the votes to pass the Senate, leadership in the state House has been slow to move on it, McDonnell said.
Until now, most of what has been done for Grafius Run is a “band aid” solution, McDonnell said, but the goal is to fix the overall issue.
Solutions lie in working to diminish waste added to the run from communities upstream in the immediate north of the city as well as fixing areas along the stream where debris and waste back up and cause the run to overflow its banks.
Any major improvements to the run may not happen in at least one year, possibly longer, depending on when the various funding options are approved.