Susquehanna River island residents fight to keep their part-time homes

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – Hundreds of people look forward to spring because it means spending time in their second homes on the islands in the Susquehanna River.

But those good times might be coming to an end, and people are not happy about it.

Out on the Susquehanna, a brand new organization is fighting for its existence. Derek Krehling is a spokesman for the Lake Frederick Homeowners’ Association, formed on Friday.

It’s composed of people who own the 300 cabins and mobile homes on Shelley and Bashore islands outside Middletown on the part of the river referred to as Lake Frederick.

“They’re not just cabins on an island,” said Krehling, who owns a cabin on a private section of Shelley Island. “These are people coming together as a community in the realest sense of the word.”

The group formed because they might not have homes on the islands for much longer. The problem is they don’t own the land; York Haven Power Company does and rents out the lots for recreation.

Now FEMA is getting more strict about flood regulations, putting pressure on local governments like Londonderry Township to enforce the rules, including how high off the ground structures need to be in flood plains.

Most of the buildings on the islands don’t meet standards. Londonderry Township drew up a new compliance plan to guide any changes or upgrades.

It would likely cost thousands of dollars per lot to bring them up to regulation, and as property owners, the power company would be on the hook for any lapses in compliance.

Instead, the company told the part-time residents they have until the end of summer 2017 to remove all structures.

“York Haven, quite frankly, they don’t have a choice because we have to come after them,” said Jim Diamond, an attorney whose firm represents the township. “We’re coming after them and they have a lot of potential exposure and liability out there. And, you know, they have to make whatever decisions make sense for them.”

“They’re modest, hard-working people,” Krehling said, “and they can’t afford to just give up this investment that they’ve made overnight.”

At a packed township supervisors’ meeting Monday night, the renters asked for help.

“I owe $20,000 to a mortgage, plus what I got to do to remove the cabin,” Tim Reider told the standing-room-only crowd. “That’s not feasible.”

The township doesn’t have much of a say. They were meeting to discuss the new flood compliance plan. Island residents implored them not to vote.

“We need a chance to see what our rights are,” one man said. “We need to talk to people.”

It worked. The board delayed the vote until April. The room erupted in applause and cheers. But the fight is just starting to save the Lake Frederick Homeowners’ Association.

“This is a small baby step in, I think, what’s going to be a long process,” Krehling said.

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