The good news is that insurance was found just in time to cover the flood levee in Hawley Borough by the January 1st deadline.

HAWLEY - The good news is that insurance was found just in time to cover the flood levee in Hawley Borough by the January 1st deadline. This was tempered with frustration expressed at the January 2nd Council meeting, from Council members who were not included in the decision made by a minority on the board.

Although the premium’s expense was described as significant - $30,920.00, the provider, AMSkier Insurance, was agreeable to payments, without interest charged, said Councilman Joseph Faubel, who is charge of the Budget & Finance Committee.

Insurance was being excluded because construction had not yet begun during 2017, to replace the worn culverts which had caused the flood levee to fail state inspection. Council received the failed levee inspection report in 2016, and consequently made the levee repair their top funding priority. Council secured grants to do the work and bring the flood protection system into compliance. A contract was approved in September 2017, with work planned to start in 2018.

The policy that was dropped protected the borough from damages should there be a breach, or a claim be filed from anyone getting hurt on the trail or Riverside Park in general, which occupies the floodplain and earthen levee. It also protects residents who live along the levee and flood plain in regards to their own flood insurance plans.

The new policy provides the borough with $1 million in protection.

Background

Council normally meets on the second Wednesday of the month but met early this month. Faubel said at the meeting their general insurance carrier, which had included the levee in the premium package, realized in September 2017 that the levee repairs had not started, so opted to exclude the levee in the policy, which was up for renewal January 1st.

Councilwoman Michelle Rojas, who has been instrumental in seeking grants for the levee work, raised the topic at the December 13th Council meeting. After discussion, Council approved at the December meeting, to seek alternate insurance for the levee, realizing they had only two weeks and the Holidays in the midst of it. There was concern about being able to find similar coverage. Rojas said she would ask another provider to use the same rates and see if they needed to increase it later.

Monaghan later explained that the matter had been discussed prior to the December meeting, but Council wasn’t aware at the time there would be any difficulty finding a other provider at a reasonable price. The urgency of the issue became apparent in December.

Speaking at the January 2nd meeting, Faubel stated, “There is insurance in place… we felt that although it is expensive, it was less expensive than the possibility of an accident or litigation from the result of an accident, without insurance.”

Gretchen, a representative from AMSkier Insurance, told Council that they took the coverage request to the market and approached 26 carriers. Most of the carries declined to insure the levee, given the unacceptable rating from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Offended at procedure 

Councilman Mike Dougherty immediately asked, “Who here decided to get the insurance?” Both he and Rojas expressed their disappointment and surprise that other council members had not been contacted. Councilwomen Christine Ferrara Murray and Pat Jacobsen both indicated that they were not aware until then, that a decision had been made.

Council President Ann Monaghan had discussed the proposal with Faubel and Council Vice-president Elaine Herzog, and on Friday, December 29, Monaghan approved going ahead with it so that the levee could be insured for 2018.

Monaghan later explained that Rojas had been corresponding with all council members via email; all council members were aware of the situation and that there were really no viable options available.

“It was my presumption that all avenues had been explored and that this was the final option available to us with regard to the insurance,” Monaghan said. She affirmed that no other council members had been notified, although she said all were aware of the situation as it developed. “I do believe that the best interests of the borough as a whole should be the primary concern when making decisions that impact the residents,” she told The News Eagle. “Not having insurance even for a few hours much less several days could have had potential consequences that were far more costly.”

Rojas wanted to know if there had been a vote, stating she had tried to keep everyone notified. “I’m quite surprised I’m hearing it now,” she said. “…Why weren’t we allowed to vote?” Rojas stressed that this was a large amount of money, and as a courtesy the whole Council should have been contacted. She stressed that a decision had been made that affects the budget and could potentially impact taxes. She said they are all under the “public scope”.

Faubel stated that he only learned of the quote from AMSkier on Friday.

“You left the quorum out,” Dougherty said. “That can’t happen going forward.” He asserted that the council president was “out of line” in regards to how it was done. Murray stated that it was in the best interest of Council to call one another and put matters to a vote.

Asked about the legality of the manner in which the decision had been reached, Alternate Borough Solicitor Christopher Weed said he believes “it was legal under emergency powers.” Weed said he would need to research the Borough Code to show where that is stated.