Flood Protection Authority To Seek Private Assistance For Emergencies

September 19, 2018

PLAINS TWP. — The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority will seek help from private contractors to ensure public safety in future major flood events.

The authority maintains the 16-mile-long Wyoming Valley Flood Risk Management Project, which features a levee along the Susquehanna River that protects much of the county from flooding.

Workers from the Luzerne County road and bridge department have helped authority personnel to secure the levee in times of serious flood danger, such as September 2011, authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman said Tuesday.

However, that department is now so depleted it does not have enough employees left to rely on in case an urgent response is needed, Belleman told the authority board.

“We can’t exclusively look to the county,” he said.

Belleman suggested the authority contract with one or more private firms to provide as-needed services “during the emergency and recovery phases of a major flood event.”

Those services would only be needed in event of an emergency, when the largest and most serious flood control measures along the levee — such as securing the flood gates at Market Street — needed to be put into effect, Belleman said.

For example, last month’s high-water event, when the river reached its highest recorded level at Wilkes-Barre since its historic high crest in 2011, would not have required the authority to ask private contractors for help, he said.

Thus, it could be years after an agreement is reached before a private firm’s assistance is needed, according to Belleman.

But the authority needs to be prepared, he said.

The authority board voted unanimously to have Belleman put together a Request for Proposal for the as-needed services agreement.

Before they voted, board members asked how the agreement would work in practice, and who would ultimately pay for any emergency work contractors performed.

Authority Chairman Kevin O’Brien asked if the private firms would be placed on retainer, to ensure they would be available. He and board member Richard Adams asked if fees paid to private contractors could be reimbursed in the event of a disaster declaration.

Authority solicitor Christopher Cullen said such reimbursement would be likely, since any private firm contracted to help prevent a major flood would be “cloaked with the designation of emergency responders.”

Belleman emphasized that securing private-sector help in an emergency would not reflect poorly on the county or its workers.

“I am not disparaging the county at all,” he said. ... “We have to face the new reality.”

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