Tens of thousands of residents protected by the Wyoming Valley Levee can breathe easier because the federal government has repaired most of the damage the system sustained while holding back record-setting Susquehanna River flood water two years ago.
Officials had been relying on temporary repairs until the work was completed, though they had repeatedly stressed the 15-mile levee system would still perform as required in a flood.
“We’ve been doing significant work along the Wyoming Valley Levee, and all is going very well. We’ve completed the majority of the work,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Ashley W. Roberts.
The most significant repair was a section of the levee behind the Forty Fort Cemetery that was heavily damaged.
This section had to be reinforced with sandbags and several hundred tons of rock and dirt in September 2011 to plug boils, or paths under the levee that jeopardized its stability.
Tri-State Design/KC Construction Co. of Elkins Park, which was hired by the Army Corps, removed the temporary fill and replaced it with fill that was properly graded and compacted, Roberts said.
The company also repaired macadam along the river side of the Forty Fort flood wall and visible cracks that formed in the levee concrete casing in this area, Roberts said. The concrete casing is more aesthetic because the primary flood control comes from hidden interlocked sheet pile driven at least 30 feet in the ground, officials have said.
The Army Corps also completed a similar fill removal and replacement on levee boils that erupted at several other locations during the record flood, including the county recreational complex near the Wyoming Valley Airport in Forty Fort, the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming, The Laurels nursing home in Kingston, at the end of Fellows Avenue in Hanover Township and several spots in Plymouth.
The $2.4 million in work also included repairs to pump stations, a diversion channel, culvert and a relief well collection system, Roberts said.
Flood gate testing
The fix for the portable Market Street Bridge flood gates that leaked in 2011 flooding will be tested the weekend of Sept. 27.
Water pressure blew out sections of the gates’ rubber gasket seals on both the Kingston and Wilkes-Barre sides, forcing crews to dump tons of rock against the closure panels, which still vibrated.
The Army Corps is awaiting delivery of new gaskets that are expected to provide a more watertight seal where the closure panels meet the road, Roberts said.
The guide plates that hold the panels in place also will be modified because they were too long, causing the bottom panels to sit off the ground. That gap prevented the panels from putting weight on the gaskets to keep them in place, officials said.
The Army Corps also must complete additional repairs to several pump stations. This work must be handled in stages so the stations remain operational at all times, Roberts said.
While pump stations go largely unnoticed by the public, they are as crucial to preventing flooding as the levee. The stations are located where a lot of water drains from the land into the Susquehanna, including creek outlets.
When the river rises, gates are closed at these drainage outlets so the more forceful river water can’t escape.
The pump stations have deep water wells to collect the drainage since it can no longer naturally feed into the river. The stations’ pumps lift the collected water up over the levee wall and dump it onto concrete aprons into the Susquehanna.
“We’ve gone in to each station to make sure every piece is operating at 100 percent,” Roberts said.
Other non-levee flood damage repairs are also in the works.
County officials recently approved the spending of $10 million in federal flood recovery funding to cover lingering road, sewer and other infrastructure damage in multiple municipalities caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, including West Pittston, Shickshinny and Plymouth Township.
Duryea Mayor Keith Moss said the state Department of Environmental Protection is close to seeking bids to enhance the borough’s levee.
The Lackawanna River feeds into the Susquehanna by the borough, and the Lackawanna had nowhere to drain in September 2011 because the Susquehanna was so high, which caused flooding of 139 low-lying properties.
The state is spending $1.77 million to repair the existing levee and add piling to fill a gap in the dike.
“Hopefully, they will get started on that work in October or November,” Moss said.