It was the second time flood waters rose and devastated parts of Bucks County. The flooding had been the worst anyone had seen. Flooded out homes and business littered the Delaware River coastline and the water stayed longer than expected, adding insult to what had been destroyed. In Yardley Borough, among the lowest coast lines of the river, the flooding had a larger impact.
For a town of just over 2000 residents, almost 1/3 had been impacted by the flood waters including two of the main businesses that drew people to the Borough. One of them had been an icon for a long time whose ownership at one point passed between sisters. Charcoal Steaks and Things was one of those places to meet and be met at in the Borough. This is where my wife Valerie held many informal meetings with residents while on Borough Council. This is also where we had gotten to know the owner, Tony Plescha so well.
After the back to back floods though, Charcoal no longer was habitable, and the flood waters ruined every part of what made Charcoal special. Tony had recovered after the first flood and re-built but now, after a second so close to the first, the cost to rebuild again was to high – even with flood insurance. Valerie met with Tony who told her he can’t do it again and would have to close shop, which would be a loss to the Borough. Charcoal needed to remain as part of Yardley’s fabric but clearly needed help to do so.
Valerie picked up her cell phone and called the one person she knew could help. “Mike, its Valerie, I need you to come back.” After a moment, a tired voice said, “OK, I’ll head back.” That was our new Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick who had just spent all night touring the flood ravaged areas of the County and spent extra time in Yardley Borough to the extent of the damage.
Within an hour, Mike returned, and Valerie briefed him in the plight of Charcoal and Tony. When Valerie took Mike to see Tony, the raw emotion overtook both. Tony said, “Mike, I just can’t do it.” Mike, in his typical calm and reassuring voice said, “Tony, you have to return. Yardley needs you. I will help.”
In short order, Mike and his office successfully advocated to have the FEMA flood rules waived so that Tony and homeowners in the effected flood areas wouldn’t lose their homes. Mike fought to ensure that all that wanted to stay had the resources and support to do so.
Mike didn’t stop there, recognizing that the flooding issue presented a longer-term danger, Mike called Valerie and said, “I want to do a Congressional flood hearing in Yardley, can you help me put it together.” Mike brought the then Chair of the House Financial Services Committee to Yardley and held the first ever Congressional Field Flood hearing in Yardley Borough. By bringing the U.S. Congress to Yardley, Mike put faces and images to the flooding problem. That hearing prompted Congress to reevaluate the flood insurance program and study the reasons why the recurrent flooding happened along the Delaware River. That effort and Mike’s steady advocacy led to reforms for both problems.
Today, if you drive through Yardley Borough, the elevated homes made possible by the FEMA grant program have added value to the Borough including a raised and beautiful Charcoal that remains an iconic part of the area.
This thanks to a humble individual who believed government service was about serving. Mike Fitzpatrick always told me that his favorite part of being an elected official was his ability to help. No matter the issue or work involved, I’d hear Mike say, “OK, I’ll help” and thanks to that help, both Yardley and Bucks County are better for it.