Flood insurance fight in Mayfield

Though the community of Mayfield hasn’t had a flood for decades, residents are now shelling out thousands for flood insurance.

MAYFIELD, Pa. — Editors note: A previous version of this story indicated a $2.3 million federal grant was awarded to Mayfield Borough for the completion of a levee project. While the borough has been awarded a grant to clean the river of vegetation, the article has been updated to reflect that a possible $2.3 million grant has not yet been awarded.

Mayfield Borough officials tell Newswatch 16 that water from the nearby Lackawanna River hasn’t threatened this community in more than 50 years.

Despite a significant levee, many of the homes and businesses are now considered to be in the flood plain, and that distinction is costing them. 

The Lackawanna River flows gently on the outskirts of Mayfield, the water seldom rising up the walls of the levee that stretches more than a mile and a half. 

Mayor Al Chelik says the borough has seen significant flooding once, back in the early 1960s, but since the levee was installed, it hasn’t flooded at all. 

Still, FEMA says the levee doesn’t meet its criteria and recently changed the floodplain to include most of Mayfield.

“The new floodplain regulations came into effect placing 301 structures that are protected by the levee, that have to pay to upkeep the levee, and now they have to buy flood insurance,” said Mayor Al Chelik, Mayfield. 

“We made it through COVID, which a lot of people didn’t, and then this flood insurance came about, and we almost had to close the doors because of it,” said Garth Tonkin, Big Chief Market Co-owner.

Garth Tonkin co-owns Big Chief Market. He says his business would have been forced to pay roughly $40,000 a year for flood insurance, almost half of what it costs to stock the shelves. 

Instead, the owners used another property as collateral to refinance the business, pay off the mortgage, and avoid the hefty insurance fees.

“You never know what’s going to happen. It could flood tomorrow, but it’s just the cost of it doesn’t make sense. And it’s worse when the government just tells you that you have to have this. I mean, there’s no options. You can’t really shop around for it. It made it very difficult,” said Tonkin.

Councilwoman Wendy Bochnovich says the flood insurance costs are bound to get worse.

“It’s supposed to go up after this year. But not only that, it’s people who for whatever reason have to or decide to sell their homes, they can’t sell them,” said Bochnovich. 

Upkeep on the levee has never stopped. Volunteers assemble the flood gates every year, making sure the panels fit together to withstand surging waters. 

The borough wants to bring the levee up to FEMA standards and change the floodplain. Borough officials hope to receive a $2.3 million federal grant to increase the depth of some parts of the river by at least three feet, but they might not stop there.

“We figure if you’re going this far with the $2.3 million, is it going to be an extra 6 inches or an extra flood? We might as well protect ourselves from the 500-year flood,” said Bochnovich. 

Mayfield is still awaiting word on if it will receive the federal grant to upgrade the levee. With inflation and increased fuel prices, officials said even a possible $2.3 million may not go as far. 

They’re still hopeful work can begin, and residents here will soon be out of the flood plain.

RELATED: Mayfield fighting federal flood regulation

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