Flood-prone West Pittston Homes Could Be Elevated

August 22, 2018
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Flood-prone West Pittston Homes Could Be Elevated

PLAINS TWP. — A proposed flood mitigation project that calls for elevating up to 13 homes in a flood-prone area of West Pittston was unveiled at Tuesday’s meeting of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority.

Christopher Belleman, the authority’s executive director, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently informed him the house-elevating project is compatible with the ongoing Wyoming Valley levee-raising project, designed to improve flood protection along the Susquehanna River.

A committee of county and emergency management officials had submitted the house-elevating plan to the Corps of Engineers for its approval, which was required for the project to proceed, Belleman said.

Plans call for the homes to be raised above “base flood elevation level,” with basements filled in and utility lines re-routed, he said.

The authority board on Tuesday approved the project, estimated to cost about $2.5 million. Belleman said that figure is a “rough ballpark” estimate, and emphasized the project is in the early planning stages and depends upon finding sufficient funding.

The authority will pursue hazard mitigation grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as Luzerne County Office of Community Development grants and other funding sources, Belleman said.

The owners of the impacted homes will likely be required to contribute 5 percent to 10 percent of the cost, according to Belleman.

The project will be voluntary, giving property owners the option not to participate, he said.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency designated the 13 homes as “repetitive loss properties” or “severe repetitive loss properties” following the major flood of September 2011, when some West Pittston residents had to evacuate by boat, Belleman said.

Attempts to obtain a list of the impacted properties on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The project must be approved by a multi-county flood mitigation advisory board, which next meets Sept. 6. That board includes representatives of Columbia, Luzerne, Montour, Northumberland and Snyder counties, Belleman said.

The project could be rendered moot if West Pittston decides to pursue flood protection measures on its own, according to Belleman.

At present, there is no levee protection from the Susquehanna River in West Pittston. That could change someday, according to borough Mayor Tom Blaskiewicz.

West Pittston borough council in May approved a grant-funded feasibility study to explore flood mitigation options, Blaskiewicz said.

Borough officials hope to send out a request for proposals to conduct the study soon, he said.

Blaskiewicz said borough residents who live along Susquehanna Avenue and areas near the river have said they want flood protection, especially after an ice jam on the river caused flooding problems in January.

Belleman agreed.

“I would think at this point they would want protection,” he said.

However, published reports following the 2011 flood noted conflicting opinions between those who wanted better flood protection and those who preferred to maintain a natural setting and clear view of the river.

A photograph that accompanied an article in The New York Times showed the following words written in white paint on the side of a West Pittston building:

“Levee or view?”

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