WILKES-BARRE — One more giant aluminum panel shuddered and fell into place with a resounding thud. Engineers looked on as their handiwork aligned as designed, protecting the city against calamity if the Susquehanna River were to rise up against it again.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority held a dry run this weekend, testing the levee’s post and panel system on Wilkes-Barre and Kingston sides of the Market Street Bridge.
Modifications had been made to the posts. Welders added angled plates near the bottom of the beams to guide the panels and the foam rubber gaskets below the panels. The updates were made after the flood caused by Tropical Storm Lee proved the old ones let out too much water.
That’s what they are trying to correct, said Army Corps Project Manager Rolando Sanidad.
Acting Flood Protection Authority Director Chris Belleman said water leaking through the horizontal panel seams is acceptable; however, water soaking below the wall is something engineers felt they could fix.
“I want to reiterate, the post and panel worked fantastic,” Belleman said of the wall in 2011.
If county officials, working with the National Weather Service, find potential flooding is imminent, it takes workers about a day to raise the road-spanning walls, Belleman said. The end panels slide into anchors on either side of the bridge. The posts enter the ground by about 4 feet. A reinforced foundation spans under River Street and stops the river from pushing over the wall.
Former authority Director Jim Brozena was there Saturday watching the walls take shape. Brozena was running the authority in 2011.
The walls, about 12 feet tall from the sidewalk, can withstand the river raging at about 45 feet, Brozena said. In 2011, the river crested at 42.66 feet, about 20 feet above natural flood stage in the Valley.
Belleman said they were testing how the new gaskets fit under the panels, but they also erected the walls to stay nimble on the cranes and forklifts.
“If we go for a couple years without a flood event, we’ll do a test installation just to keep everyone’s awareness up,” Belleman said. “If there’s a problem, it’s important to find out about it now instead of trying to pull a solution out of your back pocket.”
Workers from Tri-State Design/KC Construction in Elkins Park were hired by the Army Corps to update the posts and run the test installation.
A smaller post and panel system behind the Luzerne County Courthouse was tested and Sanidad said engineers also are refurbishing pumps at the bridge and in Edwardsville as part of a levee-system update.
Last month, Belleman said the authority is working its way along the 13 miles of levee making repairs to a tune of $2 million to $3 million after the flood boiled out pockets below the earthen levees and strained retaining walls from Exeter to Plymouth.