The federal government is recognizing several areas in Pennsylvania as having a high risk of extreme weather disasters related to climate change.
The new “community disaster resilience zones” will have prioritized access to federal money for resilience and mitigation projects.
The 483 zones identified across the country include 21 census tracts in Chester, Crawford, Dauphin, Delaware, Jefferson, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Northampton, Philadelphia, and Susquehanna counties.
In Harrisburg, where two tracts have been marked as these zones, first responders are hoping the program will help the city finish planning and start construction on a project to remove the concrete lining from Paxton Creek and widen the creekbed.
Fire Chief Brian Enterline said the repeated flooding in that area covers major roads and cuts off sections of the city from each other.
“It’s not as simple as just driving an ambulance from point A to point B when we have those flooding issues on Cameron Street, so it increases that response time and increases the potential for issues on the emergency side significantly,” said Enterline, who also coordinates emergency management for the city.
Enterline said floods have increased since areas north of the city have developed, leaving less green space to absorb rainfall.
Intense storms that cause flooding are also becoming more common with climate change.
Money will come from the Inflation Reduction Act, last year’s major climate spending plan. A specific figure for the zones was not announced.
Rafiyqa Muhammad, who lives in Harrisburg and serves as a member of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board, says governments need to get better at communicating issues and plans with residents.
“I just like to do preventive measures, so we should be preparing for whether we get the dollars or not – what is the plan? What do we do?” Muhammad said.
Muhammad said officials need to engage with Black and Latino communities to find out what they need, rather than prescribe solutions for those neighborhoods.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.