WILKES-BARRE — The Wyoming Valley Levee System is in good shape, but parts downriver from Wilkes-Barre could use some upgrades to make them safer, officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency told local officials on Wednesday.
And within the next few years, FEMA will conduct a Levee Analysis Mapping Procedure, using aircraft with radar to map out the topography of the area and determine whether the flood zones have changed and at what level of water the levees will protect in projected future storms. The new flood zone map that comes out in 2018 will determine residents’ flood insurance rates.
The federal agency officials were at the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Wilkes-Barre to update the local municipal representatives on the status of the levee. Public meetings also are planned Monday in Wilkes-Barre and Tuesday in Nanticoke.
“The levees performed very well,” Harvey Johnson, chief of the Civil Works Branch of the Corps’ Baltimore District said after the meeting.
He said the Wyoming Valley levees prevented over $7.6 billion in damage in the Tropical Storm Lee flood in 2011.
But while the Corps recommended FEMA accredit the Kingston-to-Exeter section of the levee, it could not recommend the same for the Plymouth and Hanover Township sections, Johnson said.
Eugene Gruber, Mitigation Division director in FEMA’s Philadelphia office, said those two sections of the levee do not have adequate “freeboard,” which is the additional space above the water level on the flood wall during a flood.
“We know we have a good levee system, but not as much safety factor as we thought when it was originally designed,” he said.
But Johnson said he didn’t think there could be any modifications made at this time to make those areas safer.
“It’s not as simple as raising it a few feet,” he said.
He said any addition to the flood wall would affect water levels along other parts of the system.
Chris Belleman, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, said the authority does a very good job of maintaining the levee.
“We just went through a periodic inspection,” Belleman said. “The Corps does the inspections. They want to see our logs.”
Johnson said the levee system is projected to safely protect in a 100-year flood, but with climate changing, the frequency and severity of storms are expected to increase.
“Plymouth and Hanover (levees) were not topped by the (2011) event, but they do not have that factor of safety,” he said.
By that he said he meant the amount of freeboard in some areas was less than acceptable.
Gruber said the mapping process, which will take into account changing topography, levee height, projected storms and water flow, will start in fiscal year 2015 and should take a year or two to complete.
“People are concerned, not only am I going to be safe, but how much am I going to be paying in insurance,” Gruber said.
He said the flood maps won’t change until the new mapping is completed and there are community meetings and an appeals process.