Storm Central

By on July 16, 2014

Why does Manheim bear the brunt of this region’s weather?

The Manheim Storm. Sounds like a pro sports franchise, but it’s become an unwelcome way of life in this historical borough.

And throughout its history, as bad weather passes through the region, Manheim always seems to field the most punishment.

Take, for example, the July 3 wind that knocked down 20 trees and damaged a historical landmark. Nearby Lititz, just five miles to the east, was comparatively unscathed.

So, why does Mother Nature have it out for Manheim?

“Maybe she’s tired of our shenanigans,” Abigail Smoker, a resident on High Street, joked.

While flooding is a constant issue in Manheim, a July 3 wind storm toppled at least 20 trees, including this one that crushed a house. (Photo courtesy of Manheim Borough)

While flooding is a constant issue in Manheim, a July 3 wind storm toppled at least 20 trees, including this one that crushed a house. (Photo courtesy of Manheim Borough)

Her humor was half-hearted, because in reality this most recent storm cost her and her husband Matt at least $1,000.

“If neighbors wouldn’t have helped out, it would have been thousands more,” she said.

The real problem for Manheim, according to Mark Stivers, borough manager, is flooding. If you live in Manheim, you’re probably well aware of that unfortunate fact. It’s all about topography.

“We’re like a bowl,” said Stivers. “Manheim sits low. If you were building a storm water plan today, you wouldn’t build here. But that was a decision made 250 years ago.”

As far as July 3 goes, Stivers said that was probably just bad luck.

The Fourth Eve wind knocked down at least 20 trees in the borough, including two that hit buildings on South Main Street. One of those damaged buildings was Harbor Engineering, a historical landmark. The storm meant long hours for the borough’s public works crew, police department and emergency volunteers; and Logan Park was opened to the public as a storm debris dumping area (through July 13).

The borough does budget for storm clean up, but this year’s fund is already running low due to the unusually harsh winter.

“If you go from last December to now, we’ve been hammered,” Stivers said.

Couple that with major flooding during last year’s farm show, and Manheim is in need of a bad weather break. Going back even further, several properties damaged by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 are still vacant and awaiting repair.

Stivers said Manheim generally deals with two major flooding incidents every year. On top of that there are usually six to eight “nuisance storms” that cause plenty of headaches, especially for those who live in the borough’s floodplain. Those residents and business owners are usually required to have flood insurance in addition to their regular homeowner/property insurance. And while many have this insurance, some choose to not use it for fear of rate increases.

“We filed a claim once in the 11 years we’ve lived in the floodplain, and our rate went up,” said Smoker. “So, it makes more sense for us to pay out of our pockets.”

It begs the question, why even have insurance if you’re afraid to use it?

“Right, what’s the point?” Smoker answered. “It’s because we have to, by law. But I’d rather take that money and save it for a rainy day, literally. I mean, it’s coming out of our pocket anyway.”

Stivers said there’s a certain reality that Manheim has to accept when it comes to storm damage, but officials are actively looking for solutions. Most recently, the borough applied for a federal grant to study Chickies Creek, a primary flooding source, but the request wasn’t awarded.

Currently, the borough is working with State Rep. Mindy Fee’s office to arrange an educational forum for the community. One of the goals will be simplifying the relief process.

“But we’re not done, we’re going to keep pushing,” Stivers said.

Randy Gockley, Lancaster County’s emergency management director, is well aware of the flood problems in Manheim.

“We’re there in a support role to provide any assistance if the resources of the municipality warrant it,” he said.

The last time county assistance was needed was during the flood of 2011.

“That flood was overwhelming to the community,” Gockley recalled. “Close to 40 percent of the borough was under water.”

Fee’s office said a date is not set for the community flood meeting, but it will probably happen in September. Stay tuned.

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