Last updated: March 16. 2013 7:00PM - 397 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com - (570) 991-6388

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Some Luzerne County officials are trying to reactivate a major flood-control project along Solomon Creek to protect a section of Greater Wilkes-Barre.

Legislators added the creek to the Wyoming Valley Levee project in 2007, allowing the federal government to fund 75 percent of its $50 million to $60 million reconstruction.

However, no federal money has been allocated to date, putting the project indefinitely on hold.

The reconstruction would add flood walls where there are none and redo deteriorating walls. Creek widening is also a possibility in some areas.

Runoff from the Mountain Top area drains into the creek, which winds through Ashley, Wilkes-Barre and Hanover Township before spilling into the Susquehanna River.

County Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons advised the county Flood Protection Authority on Tuesday to schedule a meeting with Wilkes-Barre officials to identify the project sponsor.

A project sponsor essentially agrees to take ownership of a flood-control project and commits to providing 12.5 percent of the cost, with the remaining 12.5 percent funding from the state.

The authority, for example, was the project sponsor of the Wyoming Valley Levee along the Susquehanna River.

Gibbons said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't proceed with formal design until a cooperation agreement is hammered out specifying the sponsor, funding contributors and ownership.

Authority Chairman Stephen A. Urban said he believes Wilkes-Barre – not the county -- must be the project sponsor and provide the local cost share.

Urban said the county provided the local portion of funding for the levee-raising, and he doesn't want to put the burden on county taxpayers to fund the Solomon Creek project.

Leighton's viewpoint

City Mayor Tom Leighton said county officials indicated to him the county would provide the local share of the expense when the federal funding was announced in 2007.

County funding participation is warranted, Leighton said, because creek flooding is fueled by residential and commercial development in the Mountain Top area.

If the county is going to support economic development improvements above the city, they need to support the negative impact below, Leighton said. The city doesn't have that kind of money or resources.

When the federal funding plans were announced in 2007, officials said the reconstruction would protect more than 300 homes and businesses along the creek.

Wilkes-Barre has been hit repeatedly over the last 25 years with significant flooding. The people are entitled to be protected, the late former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said in 2007 when he jointly announced the federal funding with then-U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski.

Leighton said he has repeatedly pressed state and federal legislators to address the project since he became mayor in 2004.

We've had so many flooding incidents since 2004, said Leighton, who believes increased higher elevation development has exacerbated flooding.

There has to be a resolution sooner or later.

Urban, who has walked the creek to inspect deficiencies, also emphasized the need to proceed with the project. He said a section of the creek near Carey Avenue has no wall.

The water just comes over, Urban said, noting many property owners along the creek are forced to pay higher flood insurance premiums if they have outstanding mortgages.

WPA retaining walls

The creek is largely contained by retaining walls built through the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, in the 1930s.

Roughly $11 million in government funding has been spent in recent years constructing four new bridges spanning the creek in Wilkes-Barre. These bridges at South Franklin, Waller, Regent and Barney streets are higher and equipped with flood gates.

Robert Hughes, executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, also unveiled a study last November identifying a number of problems contributing to Solomon Creek flooding, including coal ash deposits, gravel bars, tree dams and bank erosion.

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