West Pittston Seeking Levee Funding from Luzerne County US Rescue Allocation

West Pittston will apply for a portion of funding from the Luzerne County U.S. Bailout to help pay for a levee the borough wants to build along the Susquehanna River, officials said.

County Councilman Brian Thornton, who resides in the borough, said he spoke with Borough Council President Ellen Quinn and project engineering consultant Jim Brozena about the proposed seawall, claiming it was “extremely necessary”.

The 2011 Susquehanna record flood caused $98 million in damage to 880 borough residences, 26 businesses, four churches and four other public buildings, records show.

“Another severe flood like this, and I think West Pittston will cease to exist,” Thornton said.

The county is expected to receive $112.89 million in funding from American Rescue with $97.5 million remaining unallocated.

Entities interested in a county allocation have until April 29 to submit preliminary applications. The county administration solicits applications for funding so that the council can assess community needs and weigh all options.

West Pittston needs to find around $50 million to fund a dike.

The borough stands alone because the US Army Corps of Engineers refused to initiate a levee under its auspices. The federal agency determined in 2017 that a seawall around West Pittston did not meet the benefit-cost ratio to justify the investment, officials said. The process of securing and completing a seawall through the US Army Corps could also take decades.

Using a county community development grant of $225,000, the borough hired Wilkes-Barre-based Borton-Lawson to investigate all options, with help from contractor Reilly Associates in Pittston and councils of Brozena.

Unveiled in October 2019, the resulting report recommended the borough follow the example of Bloomsburg in Columbia County, which responded to a similar rejection from the Army Corps by rounding up private and public funding. to build a dike there.

The proposed 1.6-mile seawall in West Pittston would include stretches of sheet piling covered in earth and concrete and would range from 2 to 15 feet in height, according to the report.

About 60 vacant lots would need to be acquired on the river side of Susquehanna Avenue to make way for the seawall, he said.

The new levee would meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements to comply with the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure homeowners receive reduced flood insurance rates through protection levees, officials said.

Thornton said he suggested the borough submit a pre-application trying to secure a “small part of the overall project” that could serve as local counterpart to apply for other state and federal funding.

“The hardest part of financing a project is almost always the local part. This could move the project forward,” Thornton said, adding that he would write a letter of support and encourage fellow board members to get behind the initiative.

Quinn confirmed that West Pittston would seek funding from the county, but said the dollar amount it requests must be discussed and decided by the borough council as a whole. The borough is actively seeking funding for the levees from multiple sources, she said.

“We need this flood protection for the city to survive,” Quinn said.

The borough lost 28 homes that were demolished due to flood buyouts, mostly along Susquehanna Avenue, she said. These now vacant plots must be owned and maintained by the borough, and the three tax agencies lose the revenue that would have been generated.

Thornton said the borough “has already lost a good chunk of its tax base” due to the flooding.

“If it happens again, I think the economy would make West Pittston obsolete,” he said.

He also spoke out against “dirty rumors” that the borough missed a dike in the past because some residents didn’t want to spoil their view of the river.

Thornton said a US Army Corps representative was asked about the river view claim during presentations following the 2011 flood and said there was no truth to it. this affirmation.

Instead, Thornton said the federal government rejected a levee for West Pittston because of the same benefit-cost analysis cited today.

“That’s why they didn’t make the dyke. It had nothing to do with people not wanting a dike. That myth has been dispelled,” Thornton said.

Quinn agreed, saying Thorton’s description is “the true story”.

Pre-applications for county funding are posted on the main page of luzernecounty.org.

There is no guarantee that pre-applicants will be invited to submit a subsequent formal request for funding, the county said.

The county invites applications from non-profit organizations, municipalities, municipal authorities and other entities.

To date, the board has approved $15.424 million in US bailouts: $500,000 for the North East Pennsylvania Land Bank Authority, which fights the plague and covers several municipalities in the Pittston area; up to $8 million to the County Flood Protection Authority, which oversees Wyoming’s Valley Levee along the Susquehanna; $924,000 for county transit transfers; $4 million for county jail repairs and information technology needs; and $2 million to help pay for rain garden construction and shoreline restoration, which will create a $2 million credit so the county government won’t have to pay stormwater fees until when credit runs out.

The county doesn’t have to commit to a US bailout package until the end of 2024 and has until the end of 2026 to spend the money.

Contact Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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