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Islands battle keeps raging; Shelly, Beshore tenants voice displeasure with Londonderry again

By David Barr

davidbarr@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 9/13/17

Londonderry Township officials are not working with seasonal tenants of Beshore and Shelly islands on a solution that would allow them to keep their recreational residences, an attorney representing …

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Islands battle keeps raging; Shelly, Beshore tenants voice displeasure with Londonderry again

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Londonderry Township officials are not working with seasonal tenants of Beshore and Shelly islands on a solution that would allow them to keep their recreational residences, an attorney representing a homeowners association told the township board Tuesday night.

More than 70 people piled into the Londonderry Township building on Tuesday Sept. 5 to voice their displeasure with the township’s announcement regarding the Susquehanna River islands last week.

On Thursday, Aug. 31, township officials reiterated their stance that their hands are tied when it comes to the tenants of the islands. In April 2016, Londonderry Township and York Haven Power Co. entered into a compliance agreement that said the power company would cease issuing recreational lot licenses to island residents at the conclusion of September 2017.

Residents would then have 45 days to remove personal items before removing the structures themselves by October 2019.

Township officials cited a threat from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would eliminate the township’s ability to receive government-backed flood insurance throughout the township if it did not begin enforcing its floodplain development ordinance on the islands. The ordinance was adopted in 1980.

At its Tuesday board of supervisors meeting, officials listened to another round of pleas and requests from 13 speakers who don’t want to see their recreation areas fall by the wayside.

Ashley Griffith, an attorney for the Lake Frederick Homeowners Association, spoke to the supervisors on behalf of the association. 

In a letter to the supervisors, Griffith said the association felt the township was not working with them on a solution that would benefit all parties.

“Our official position is that we do not feel that you are being completely honest with us or the public. We have tried in good faith to work with you and not against you from Day 1. You have repeatedly blocked attempts to partner with us to proactively find solutions to what is essentially your own problem.”

According to previous reports by the Press & Journal, the compliance agreement between the township and York Haven “allows the island homeowners to stay on the islands until the end of the summer season in 2017, and it allows them to negotiate another solution with York Haven if it receives a blessing from FEMA and the township.”

“It is our opinion that you are forcing Cube/YHPC to follow this agreement even though the board specifically promised when it approved this agreement that the board would amend it if we and YHPC worked together towards an alternate solution as long as the island complied with FEMA requirements,” she said. Cube Hydro Partners, based in Bethesda, Maryland, purchased the York Haven Hydro Station, in November 2015.

“You have intentionally kept us and the power company from reaching out to FEMA for any information or assistance of any kind. You have made it clear that you never had any intention of doing what several of you said you would do in April of 2016. 

“In reality, all we were asking for was time to either bring our cabins into compliance or to demolish them as part of a redevelopment effort. The township’s agreement with YHPC would still have remained in place.”

Griffith took the case pro bono because she “felt so strongly about it and I don’t want to see it go.”

Griffith has been coming to the islands since she was two weeks old and calls them her “happy place.” Seeing the crowds of people packed into the township building “shows what our community is” according to Griffith.

“It shows we are a family,” Griffith said.

Toomey letter

Adam Shaffer addressed the board by producing an email dated Aug. 28 from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s office regarding the islands. It was written by Steve Meredith, grants coordinator for Toomey’s office.

“Development on the islands in question is still possible, as long as those developments occur within FEMA’s and Londonderry Township’s guidelines. All structures on the island must be compliant with FEMA flood statutes. Assuming they are, FEMA has no legal standing to obstruct development or continued inhabitancy on the island. Any further decisions will have to be made by township officials,” the letter states.

Shaffer said: “This letter is very clear that compliance is what FEMA requires. Unfortunately, Mr. Jim Diamond (the township solicitor) and Steve Letavic (the township manager), who isn’t here today, have continued to blame FEMA to us and to the public, to the media, as well as we’re assuming behind closed doors since we don’t have those conversations. That is a clear misrepresentation of what FEMA has told us and others around us. The only thing FEMA requires is coming into compliance. We understand that. We are prepared.”

He referenced posters brought to the meeting by citizens with a quote from Letavic from the April 4, 2016 meeting. The quote is as follows: “If they can find a solution that is agreeable with York Haven, FEMA, and the township is still protected, yes, then we will be willing to amend that.”

“This is pretty straightforward. We have a 17-month plan we’ve worked that would cost the township nothing. We come into compliance. We don’t understand why you refuse to take a step back from that compliance agreement and work with us like we have been trying to get you to do. As soon as you continue to stonewall us with that compliance agreement, this is what we’re getting. We have done everything you all have asked. You need to now let us work with you to come into compliance.”

Toomey response

Steve Kelly, Toomey’s press secretary, said the senator’s involvement in this matter has been to serve as an informational resource and a conduit between interested stakeholders and FEMA and not to advocate for one side or the other.

Kelly shared with the Press & Journal a letter Toomey sent to “those who are interested in this matter.” It said in part:

“My office has discussed this matter at length with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Londonderry Township and other parties including other local Congressional offices. These same FEMA regulations are consistent nationwide and Bashore and Shelly Islands must be treated the same as other communities across the country.

“In addition, as the owner of Bashore and Shelley Islands, YHPC would appear to be within their legal rights to enforce this Compliance Agreement. Members of Congress do not have the authority to tell a private company what they can and cannot do with their property.  At this point I believe your interests are best served resolving the matter directly with the Township or by pursuing this matter with YHPC through legal counsel.

“I realize that this is a very difficult situation for you and your family and I am sorry that there are no better options to offer to you,” it states.

FEMA letter

Other comments mirrored previous remarks about not wishing to see memories and a way of life for generations be done away with, along with reminding the board of the disappearance of money coming into the local economy with this decision.

The Press & Journal was given a copy of a letter from FEMA to the Londonderry Township Board of Supervisors by Mark Stewart, the township’s other solicitor. It is dated Aug. 31, and is from Philadelphia-based Nicole P.G. Lick of the Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch of FEMA. It says in part: “FEMA does not support any change to the compliance agreement that would include the continued use of the existing structures. During an Aug. 2, 2017, meeting, FEMA reiterated it is supportive of Londonderry Township’s stance to honor these terms and conditions of the compliance agreement and enforce its floodplain ordinance.

“New development can occur on the island, as long as Cube Hydro, the landowner, authorizes it and that Londonderry Township permits the development in compliance with their floodplain ordinance.”

The letter said a March 8, 2012, “Community Assistance Visit” by FEMA identified “numerous violations that the township is required to take corrective actions to resolve.” 

Letavic referred all questions to the township solicitor Jim Diamond. In an email, Diamond said that “if the licensees fail to comply with their contractual obligations to the actual owner of the land, York Haven Power, the owner would have the right to evict them and/or deal with any trespassing that may occur.”

Mark Gross, vice president of operations and operations manager for Cube Hydro, the company that acquired York Haven in November 2015, said in an email they are “obligated” to follow the compliance agreement struck between York Haven and Londonderry Township in April 2016.

“It is our expectation that residents will in good faith meet their removal or demolition obligations in accordance with their 2017 summer licenses,” Gross said of making sure to enforce the removal of the property from the islands at the conclusion of the 2017 recreational season, which ends Sept. 30.

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