The meeting of Titusville’s City Council was dominated by talks of the past weekend's flooding, even being mentioned during the invocation.
County officials, including Commissioner Eric Henry, came to the meeting to talk about what they plan to do to help, and to brainstorm on how to prevent this from happening in the future. The meeting room was packed, but rising waters in Church Run forced some who wished to speak to leave the meeting and attend to their properties.
The meeting started with city officials asking those in the room to mention times that Church Run has flooded. Years as long ago as 1990, and as recently as 2019, were thrown out.
City Manager Neil Fratus told those in attendance that currently, he doesn’t have the answers to this problem, but through working with both state and federal officials and organizations, he hopes that a solution could be found.
Fratus updated residents on steps being taken by the City to help alleviate the issues caused by Saturday’s flooding, which include Racoon Refuse doing a pickup of any flood-related debris or garbage on Saturday at 7 a.m.
The City is waiving water fees that are over a customers usual monthly rate if they contact the City and let them know they had to wash down a driveway or clean out a basement or garage.
The City is also trying to establish a 2021 Flood Fund to help with any expenses to homeowners, landlords or business owners that had to replace certain items.
After Fratus explained what the City is doing, he opened the floor.
Mayor Jon Crouch started off saying that what he has seen with Church Run is unacceptable.
“This has happened three times in seven years,” he said about the flooding, “That is a problem.” Crouch said that whether it be a dam, diversions, or other solutions, something must be done to address a problem that has plagued the community for more than 100 years.
In attendance from county government were County Commissioner Eric Henry, and Crawford County Department of Public Safety Operations and Training Officer Don Bovard.
Henry announced that the county is freeing up Act 137 funding to help. Henry said that Titusville has the “full support of county government.” Part of the reason they went with Act 137 funding is that unlike applying for a program, the money is already there and should get to those affected more easily.
“We are trying to cut that out,” said Henry about the governmental red tape.
Next to speak was Bovard. He said that his office wants to pay Titusville and the eastern portion of the county “the attention you deserve.”
The next step for the county will be doing an assessment, trying to see what damage has been done.
“If we have to go door to door,” said Bovard, that is what the county will do. They want to make sure that all the damage is accounted for, so that the county can start to help.
Among the different tasks that the Department of Public Safety is also mitigation. Bovard said that this issue is “something that should’ve been mitigated.”
He also mentioned climate change, and said that the storms seem to be coming more frequently, dumping more water.
Bovard did say that mitigation is usually a long game, and could take years before anything substantial is done. In the meantime, he said his department will work with the City to “lessen the effects of floods.”
The first member of the public to speak was John Miller, who has lived in the city for 40 years. He wanted to tell council not to focus on “pointing fingers,” and that in the short term he would like to see the creek opened up and cleaned. He also mentioned that years ago the city had been granted FEMA money, but that the city was not interested in putting up the match that was needed. He added that so far, he has been “encouraged” with what he has heard, and hopes city officials stay the course.
Miller also mentioned that part of what is in the water is sewage, something that Dr. Richard Mulcahy expanded upon.
As a history and political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh Titusville, Mulcahy said that diseases that have mostly disappeared from the public eye like cholera, can be conducted by wading through the flood waters.
Dr. Mulcahy said that the water is “definitely contaminated” and even called it “toxic soup.” To help for future floods, he also asked that a dam be put in, and that an ordinance be passed to help keep people safe.
“An advisory needs to be put out,” he said, “Don’t wade in this stuff. It’s poisonous.” He wants people to know that both walking and driving through the flood waters is a bad idea. “Drivers cost a lot of people,” said Mulcahy.
Others spoke about how the flood waters came in quickly, and that there was little time to prepare. Some spoke briefly about damage to their basements and solutions, before quickly running out to deal with the next wave of high water that was taking place during the meeting.
Ultimately, the council agreed that something substantial needs to happen to protect the city and its residents.
Speaking about a potential dam, Councilman CJ Kirvan said about if a dam was a good solution, “that’s what I believe,” and that it is “one of the things that has been discussed.”
The council said that one thing they will do is help clear out the creek of debris, so that bunching up near the bridges that cross the creek do not divert more water.
“Once you block up Franklin, it’s game over,” said Deputy Mayor Bill McCrillis. For many Titusville residents, game over means lots of work cleaning up from the mess, and property damage that could take even longer to correct.
Looking forward, city officials have been in contact with State Senator Kathy Rapp (R-65) and other officials to help secure a long term plan, and potential funding, for a solution to keep citizens dry and their property safe.
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.