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Shelly, Beshore islands tenants have little power to remain: Editorial

Posted 9/20/17

The seasonal tenants of Shelly and Beshore islands in the Susquehanna River don’t own their land. They lease it.

That, to us, is the key thing to keep in mind when the emotional and …

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Shelly, Beshore islands tenants have little power to remain: Editorial

Posted

The seasonal tenants of Shelly and Beshore islands in the Susquehanna River don’t own their land. They lease it.

That, to us, is the key thing to keep in mind when the emotional and complicated issue involving those tenants, Londonderry Township, landowner York Haven Power Co. and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is discussed.

York Haven can do what it wants, and it doesn’t need a reason. The people who use the islands, as much as they want to be otherwise, are tenants, not residents. That’s a key difference. 

We understand that the tenants wish it were otherwise. We understand that they want the opportunity to bring their residences into compliance with FEMA floodplain regulations, which is at the heart of this conflict.

But when it comes right down to it, York Haven can do what it wants. Begging and pleading doesn’t always work.

The tenants of the islands, and indeed York Haven as the landowner, must comply with township and FEMA regulations just like every other resident. The fact that these seasonal homes have been there for years is immaterial. The fact that families have used these lots for generations is immaterial.

York Haven could give the tenants more leeway. Maybe it should. But it doesn’t have to.

Londonderry Township bears some of the blame for these problems. Regulations that should have been enforced for decades related to floodplains were not. FEMA can’t and shouldn’t abide by that. FEMA, which could be seen as a faceless, heartless federal bureaucracy, carries a big stick: Unless the islands comply, all residents of the township could be denied federal flood insurance.

We don’t see FEMA as the bad guy. There doesn’t have to be a “bad guy” in this situation. FEMA’s roll is to be dispassionate. It doesn’t care about the history of the islands. It sees what is going on right now, and it wants compliance. That is its job, and they are right to carry it out.

The township supervisors also have a job to do, and that’s to look out for the best interests of the entire township. Yet they are local folks, not some faceless federal monolith. They also in most cases would like to be re-elected, so rocking the boat isn’t always their priority.

The “River Rats” are passionate about their recreational lands, and we are in no way trying to dismiss that. It’s a wonderful thing that they love it so much. But we don’t see what legal leg they have to stand on in trying to remain on an island that they don’t own.

We understand the money that has been put into improvements on the lots. But, as one of our Facebook commenters said succinctly: Don’t make improvements to land that you don’t own.

We have some fear that this could get ugly, that some tenants will refuse to leave the land, and that they and their belongings will be removed forcefully. We really would hate to see that happen. It would mar years of good memories for the residents. Even if a few people eventually refuse to leave peacefully and authorities must be called, it would be a sad day.

While the homeowners association has been hesitant to say they plan to file a lawsuit, we see almost no other chance for a resolution that would benefit them. We don’t begrudge them seeking legal recourse, but as we said, a legal argument to be able to stay on land they don’t own seems murky at best. Even Ashley Griffith, who is a lawyer who works with the Lake Frederick Home Owners Association although she is not their counsel, says that’s the case.

We often feel like government oversteps its bounds, and we are not hesitant to speak out when that happens. 

But in this case, we support bringing the islands into compliance with floodplain ordinances. The tenants want the ability to address those issues, which include the height of the buildings and septic issues. But for Cube Hydro Partners, which now owns York Haven Power Co., it is likely the company just wants the entire potential headache to go away.

We feel empathy for the tenants. Many don’t know a life other than going to the island for their summer relaxation. They have every right to try to change the situation, but Cube Hydro has every right to say no, and Londonderry Township officials have every right to protect the interests of all the residents by working with the company to ensure compliance with FEMA.

While the islands have been a great spot for these tenants, that time appears to be coming to a close. We wish them the best in finding other venues to create more lasting memories for themselves and their descendants.


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Glenn Harmon

You fail to mention these properties had a Certificate of Non-Conformance issued by Londonderry Township in 1991 which made them legally existing structures and the Township conspired to force the new owners of the power plant into signing a Compliance Agreement under threat of a lawsuit (which is contained in the Agreement) in order to make the Certificates useless. The Certificates were not disclosed by the Township to Cube Hydro or FEMA and the Township gave false information to CUBE stating properties were a conglomeration of run-down trailers and ramshackle cabins and CUBE acted on this misinformation and withheld information by the Township along with the threat of lawsuit to sign the Agreement. After CUBE became aware of the truths, they attempted to amend the Agreement but the Township wouldn't agree. Please note that FEMA has stated the destruction and removal of properties is not the only way to come into compliance and the islanders have agreed to come into compliance but the Township won't have it any other way.

Sunday, September 24