The Flood Recovery Task Force, Inc. records, 1972-1975
Scope and Content
The Flood Recovery Task Force, Inc. was established to provide direction and relief for flood victims and redevelopment of Wyoming Valley communities. The Task Force consisted of influential local leaders and individuals in Wyoming Valley’s private sector. Members included Honorable Judge Max Rosenn as its chair, Senator Frank Carlucci, Senators Richard Schweiker and Hugh Scott, Congressman Dan Flood, Executive Director of the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Howard J. Grossman, Andrew J. Sordoni III, George Sailus, Eugene Roth, Esq., Harold Rose, Jr., President of Wilkes College, Francis J. Michelini, President of Kings College Reverend Lane D. Kilburn, Thomas Kiley, Ed Schechter, John Conyngham, Harrison Smith, Richard Demmy, Robert Masoner, Judge Bernard Brominski, James Adonizio, Clifford Madrick, Charles Hardwick, Ray Turner, Jr., William Golden, Dr. Robert Kerr, Paul Strongin, Joseph Quinn, Esq., Robert L. Jones, and Oscar Weissman, General Frank Townend, Civil Defense, John Hibbard, and Edgar J. Lashford.
The Core Committee established standing committees with more members to delegate different areas for recovery aid, including Legislation and Equity, State Aid, Private Educational Institutions, Planning and Development, Local Government, Transportation, Labor and Construction, Human Services, and Public Relations. There were over 100 members involved in the Flood Recovery Task Force core and standing committees. The Task Force met frequently and collaborated with federal and state organizations, non-profit organizations, and private contractors and companies to tackle many of the issues the region faced such as rebuilding housing, transportation, businesses, roads, bridges, and social programs. The Task Force also wanted to reconstruct the levees, enhance flood control dams, and support other flood control measures. A priority for the Public Relations standing committee was to keep the Agnes flood devastation in the news so that state and federal attention would remain on the region to aid in its recovery.
In the immediate months following the flood, Congress authorized $200 million for the disaster. A larger $1.6 billion appropriations bill for flood relief passed Congress in mid-August 1972. The Small Business Association loan program authorized up to $5000 grant to victims of the flood. Congress lowered interest rates on individual and small business disaster loans from 5% to 1%. Congress also assisted with highway aid, transportation, farmers, and flood insurance aid. However, many believed the $5000 (equivalent to approximately $31,262 in 2020) SBA loan grants were not sufficient funds to repair homes that at the time cost average $20,000 (equivalent to $124,511 in 2020). The Flood Recovery Task Force assisted flood victims to attend disaster relief hearings held by the Subcommittee on Disaster Relief of the Senate Committee on Public Works in Wilkes Barre in the fall of 1972 and spring of 1973. Another organization, the Flood Victims Action Council (FVAC) also assisted people who suffered losses to get as much as possible reimbursed by the federal government.
While congressional representatives debated the disaster recovery package in Washington, flood victims became increasingly upset over the lack of aid for temporary housing by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During a Wilkes-Barre visit by HUD Secretary George Romney, flood victims shouted at Romney at the post-meeting press conference and cheered Governor Milton Shapp’s comments to receive more federal aid and support. The bad publicity of this 3-day visit ended up forcing Romney to resign and President Nixon appointed Senator Frank C. Carlucci, Jr. as the special representative to implement Agnes legislation. Carlucci was a Northeastern Pennsylvanian native who had served on the board of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce from 1955-1957 and had a great record of government service. Flood victims and task force officials used Carlucci’s influence in Washington to pass legislation that would help the region recover.
On September 15, 1972, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) granted the Flood Recovery Task Force $261,000 to facilitate faster reconstruction of highways, roads, bridges, and a mass-transit system for the Wyoming Valley and to provide development and aid to flood victims and to get their input on future planning and development of the flood-stricken communities. In addition, the Task Force attempted to solve issues relating to Wyoming Valley political subdivisions and government structure in order to facilitate faster services and programs to these communities. The Task Force divided their work into three phases: Phase I: Relief to Flood Victims, Phase II: Short-Term Recovery Programs, and Phase III: Long-Term Recovery Programs.
Phase I: Relief to Flood Victims came in the form of hundreds of volunteers from the community as well as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and religious groups working together to sandbag the dikes, to evacuate victims who were trapped in homes, and to provide food and temporary shelter to those who stayed. The Flood Recovery Task Force pushed through bureaucratic obstruction by corresponding with many relief agencies and convening meetings to expedite relief.
Phase II: Short Term Recovery came in the form of short-term repair programs from the Army Corps of Engineers, Mini-Repairs, which used funds provided by the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) to do basic repairs so flood victims could remain in their homes during their restoration. Another repair program funded by the HUD and the State Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Interim Assistance, helped flood victims with repairs to their homes or the complete demolition of irreparable buildings. The results from these two short-term repair programs motivated the federal government to use it as a model for later disasters.
Short-term recovery also came in the form of changing the Disaster Relief Act of 1970 and the Agnes Recovery Act of 1972 to include private institutions, which resulted in nine private institutions receiving federal aid. Flood Recovery Task Force members, Francis J. Michelini of Wilkes College and Reverend Lane D. Killburn of King’s College who were co-chairs on the Committee on Private Educational Institutions, worked to convince the Nixon administration to amend these two bills. The institutions included were Wilkes College, Kings College, Bishop Hoban High School, Holy Name Elementary School, Electronic Computer Center, Central Catholic High School, Wyoming Seminary, St. Aloysious Elementary School, and Wyoming Seminary Day School.
The Flood Recovery Task Force worked to persuade the Small Business Administration, which had a reputation for denying claims, to remove strict procedures and policies in granting local businesses and homeowners’ financial aid. A shift occurred after Governor William Scranton connected Judge Rosenn to Thomas Kleppe of the SBA. After this networking, the SBA became more flexible and responsive to the Flood Recovery Task Force’s needs and it was easier for flood victims to receive aid.
Flood Recovery Task Force member Margaret Anderson was the chair of the Committee on Families, Health, and Aging. The committee changed its name to the Human Services Committee as it took on a significant role of assisting people in need of child welfare, improving the living conditions of flood victims living in mobile parks, advocating for more nursing home beds, and other social services in the valley. Anderson worked closely with many state and local officials, including Alice McFadden of Frank Carlucci’s office and Charles Reynolds of the Welfare Planning Council. A grant of $50,000 from the Haas Community Fund enabled Wilkes College to establish the Wilkes Community Effort, WCE, to provide services for flood victims in Luzerne County. These services included student labor for cleanup and home-repair work for elderly or needy flood victims, arranging transportation of individuals from their temporary post-flood homes in trailer parks to the polls on Election Day and to cultural and athletic events at Wilkes throughout the year, and providing educational workshops and recreational activities for flood victims.
The Flood Recovery Task Force’s long-term recovery plans involved commissioning private studies with companies like Wilbur Smith Associates to develop a Planning and Development Guide, A Housing Feasibility Study/Action Program commissioned by the Direction Associates, a Public Opinion Survey on local government services, and a study to assess the Area Appearance and Image of the Wyoming Valley. While some of these studies proved successful in terms of their impact, improvements and development took much longer to accomplish. The Chamber of Commerce used the Area Appearance Study to beautify the Wyoming Valley. In 1974, the County Charter Study Committee used the Opinion survey to restructure county government, and the Housing Study confirmed that modernization was necessary for the housing market in Northeastern Pennsylvania in order to incentivize people to return to the area.
The Flood Recovery Task Force’s Transportation Committee played a significant role in facilitating the development of a new mass transit system with the participation of PennDot officials, the Office of Emergency Preparedness officials, and Civil Defense director General Frank Townend. The flood created massive gridlocks and blockades, which caused people to walk great distances to travel to their homes, businesses, and places of employment. The OEP initiated a free bus and contracted the White Transit Company and the Wilkes-Barre Transit Corporation to carry riders in and out of the disaster zone. This bus service only lasted until October 18, 1972 when the federal funding ended. There was a lot of tension between state and federal officials between the fall of 1972 into the spring of 1973 due to disagreements over the deadline for the free bus service. OEP was firm in its October withdrawal deadline while PennDOT wanted an extension until the construction of the North/Pierce Street temporary bridge was complete in January 1973. This led to tension between Secretary Kassab with the OEP. The Transportation Committee acted as a buffer and compromising party during this period.
The Transportation Committee solved these issues by applying for a $1.53 million Demonstration grant with the sole objective of developing a new transit system that would transport citizens across the valley. On October 19, 1972, The Luzerne County Transportation Authority (LCTA) took over the OEP’s bus service and began to phase out the White and Wilkes-Barre Transit to create its own transit system. The cost to ride the LCTA was fifteen cents. The temporary North/Pierce Street Bridge was finished on January 3, 1973. The Wyoming Valley used this temporary bridge for a few years until the permanent Veterans Memorial Bridge was built in 1979.
Another big goal of the Transportation Committee was to create the North Cross-Valley expressway as a means to ease traffic through the valley. Cliff Bigelow of the Wyoming Valley Motor Club chaired the Cross-Valley expressway subcommittee. Both Bigelow and Ed Schechter, who was the chair for the Transportation Committee, convinced the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania (EDCNP), the County Planning Commission, and other federal and state agencies that the construction of this expressway was necessary to the long-term recovery of the region. There were major setbacks due to the project meeting eligibility requirements for federal spending and delays in the capital improvement budget for the 1972-1973 fiscal year. Flood Recovery Task Force members corresponded with PennDOT officials and other federal officials and succeeded in getting their approval for this project, however, other delays with the Environmental Impact Statement pushed construction dates back. When new state and federal administrations changed, they delayed this project further. This resulted in the construction of the cross-valley expressway opening two decades later in November 1991.
The Flood Recovery Task Force’s Flood Control Committee dealt with a number of challenges. Recovery agencies and local government officials had to outline what the flood plain was and whether they should be rebuilding in the flood plain. State officials, including Governor Shapp, argued for not rebuilding in the flood plain while many local citizens wanted to rebuild in the flood plain. The Flood Recovery Task Force and standing committees finally decided on September 29, 1972 that it was the responsibility of local, state, and federal governments to construct and maintain the flood control system, specifically levees and dams so that they wouldn’t break in future storms. The Flood Control Committee had to coordinate the restoration of the dikes, which were raised to 2-2.5 feet in the valley. The Army Corps repaired the breeches and dikes at the cost of several million dollars. The Flood Control Committee also restored The Susquehanna River Basin Association and renewed the organizations’ commitment to protecting it.
One of the long-term goals of the Flood Recovery Task Force was to unify local municipalities in the region. Attorney Joseph Quinn Jr. chaired the Local Government subcommittee. The subcommittee aided local governments as well as encouraged them to merge, however, this endeavor proved futile as there were no federal or legal incentives associated with Agnes financial relief to push municipalities to merge. Instead, the disaster relief had the opposite effect of motivating municipalities to remain separated. The Flood Recovery Task Force also attempted to reform the county governments in the Wyoming Valley by submitting a bill on the November 1972 election to conduct a study to assess the structure and functionality of local government.
Many political officials found this proposed study a threat to their positions, which if passed, might result in their removal. The Flood Recovery Task Force hired Wilbur Smith, Inc. to create a public opinion survey to assess local attitudes toward county and municipal governments and campaigned to have the charter passed in the 1974 election. However, voters from Luzerne County voted on the charter in the November 5, 1974 election and rejected it (52,683 to 41,147, or 56% to 44%). Flood Recovery Task Force members were unable to merge the municipalities or restructure county governments but saw small victories in the November 1974 election with Kingston, Wilkes Barre, and Freeland voters approving Home Rule Charters for their own municipalities.
The impact of all of the Flood Recovery Task Force’s efforts resulted in a revitalization and redevelopment of the Wyoming Valley. Economic development and quality of life improved for flood victims. Municipalities were able to build new businesses, homes, roads, and bridges with state and federal aid. The Wyoming Valley eventually recovered from Tropical Storm Agnes.
Many of the Task Force members continued to create new economic development opportunities after the organization disbanded on June 23, 1974, the second anniversary of the flood. There was discussion as to whether the task force should continue and make itself a permanent organization once the Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant concluded, but the group decided to disband. Task Force leaders Tom Kiley, Ed Schechter, Andrew Sordoni, Harold Rose, and Eugene Roth established the Committee for Economic Revitalization, which eventually became the Committee for Economic Growth (CEG). In the late 1980s, combined with the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Fund of Greater Wilkes-Barre to form the Greater Wilkes-Barre Partnership. Many of the programs, organizations, and legislation created for the Agnes flood recovery served as models for future disaster relief. According to an interview conducted by historian Robert P. Wollensky with Judge Max Rosenn on August 20, 1983, Rosenn reflects, “When one compares what has occurred here with neighboring communities that escaped the flood, we realize that the flood destroyed much, but it brought with it renewed community life. Thankfully, the Valley has indeed achieved a remarkable recovery, and I’m glad that the Task Force was able to lend a hand in it.”
9 boxes (9 boxes total, 5 whole document boxes, 2 half-letter boxes, 1 whole legal box, 1 half legal sized box. ) : [2.92 linear ft]
Language of Materials
Copyright of Flood Recovery Task Force, Inc. records:
These digitized collections are accessible for purposes of education and research. We’ve indicated what we know about copyright and rights of privacy, publicity, or trademark. Due to the nature of archival collections, we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we’ll remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.
Series I: Correspondence, 1972-1974
Series II: Committees, 1972-1974
Series II, Subseries I: Flood Recovery Task Force Committees, 1972-1974
Series II, Subseries II: Subcommittee on Transportation Records, 1972-1973
Series III: Disaster Relief & Recovery, 1972-1974
Series III, Subseries I: Proposals, Programs, and Long-Term Planning, 1972-1973
Series III, Subseries II: Reports, 1972-1974
Series III: Subseries III: Housing, 1972-1975
Series IV: Publications and News Releases on Tropical Storm Agnes, 1972-1974
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