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The goal of this project is a Flood Protection Study for the Borough of West Pittston, focusing on a borough levee system and also including evaluation of removal of islands and removal of alluvial fill to improve the Susquehanna River flow and reduce floodwater levels. The levee is expected to extend along the river and Susquehanna Avenue.  This project includes the study of feasible flood control measures, with coordination with federal and state agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corp of Engineers.

The feasibility study will include a reconnaissance-level analysis of flood control measures for West Pittston Borough. The objective of this analysis is to identify methods to reduce the effect of flood waters on the Borough. The main activity associated with this project is to make application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Flood Plain Management Services, for a CAP Section 205 study, establish  a working relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and develop support among Federal and State agencies and officials for flood protection for West Pittston. 

West Pittston Borough officially requested a Section 205 study by the Army Corps in May 2013.  This  analysis could provide preliminary design analysis of an earthen levee, estimates of timeframes, environmental requirements, design costs, and alternatives for consideration
The construction of the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising project, the construction of the lowered Eighth Street Bridge and uncontrolled development of the watershed produced higher flooding levels than was predicted in West Pittston Borough. Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 was generally reported as a 340 year hydrologic event in the watershed yet it produced flooding exceeding the 500-year storm in West Pittston Borough. The unplanned, extraordinary level of induced flooding in West Pittston Borough requires the implementation of structural flood protection.

   ~  West Pittston always has been a part of the Wyoming Valley. Accordingly, West Pittston was originally included in the Army Corps of Engineers’ plans as a fifth segment of the WV Levee System and was unfairly excluded so that $24 million in construction costs would be freed and the stalled project could move forward. As it now stands, therefore, West Pittston remains the only densely populated riverside community without flood protection.

The Army Corps and others now insist that a new and separate Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) be required of West Pittston for a levee. This is an unfair  because each of the other four segments of the WV System did not require their own BCRs; nor were separate BCRs required for the proposed inflatable dam, or more recent projects such as the $24 million Wilkes-Barre portal project.

The levee Project:
Cartwright Drafts Letter Requesting Additional Funds for Small Flood Control Projects

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright has sent a letter to Rep. Mike Simpson (ID-2) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, requesting additional funding for the Section 205 Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Section 205 enables the Corps to undertake small flood control projects without the lengthy study and authorization process typical of many larger Corps projects. Because demand for such projects has increased in recent years, there is currently a significant backlog of projects competing for limited funding.

Cartwright noted, “As you know, funds have traditionally been allocated using a project funding stage-based sequence of steps until the funds are exhausted. Funds for projects not previously funded for the applicable phase have been ranked lowest on the nationwide priority listing.” In practice, this means that many deserving ‘new starts’ are rarely funded.”

“After the devastation we saw in 2011, I am committed to doing everything I can to help protect our communities up and down the Wyoming Valley,” said Cartwright. “Increased funding in this area would help the Corps reduce the backlog of both active and un-started projects. Additionally, it would provide an important economic benefit to the local, regional, and national economies.”

West Pittston is one example of a community affected by the backlog of new starts competing for CAP funding. After Tropical Strom Lee caused the Susquehanna River to flood in September 2011, the community formed an organization, West Pittston Tomorrow, which is dedicated to addressing the 1.4 mile gap in the Wyoming Valley Levee System. Additional funding for the Section 205 CAP would provide the Corps with resources necessary to tackle such projects.

Most recently, the group has circulated a petition asking residents and neighbors in surrounding communities addressed to federal and state officials urging that the borough get the flood protection that most other West Side residents already receive.

Posted May 15, 2014
Casey Pushes for Funding for West Pittston Levee Project 

Requests Adequate Funding for the Small Flood Risk Management Project in the FY 2015 Budget 
Funding Could Help Support West Pittston’s Efforts to Protect Borough from Future Flooding

U.S. Senator Bob Casey is pushing for funding that could aid the West Pittston levee project. In a letter to a key Senate committee with oversight over flood funding, Casey called on the Committee to support the current funding in the House proposal of $20 million. The so-called ‘Section 205’ program is part of the Small Flood Risk Management Project (SFRMP) This imitative, the 2015 budget funding for which is uncertain, helps provide federal funding to smaller flood control projects that don’t require extensive studies and authorization procedures. 

West Pittston is one example of a municipality that could benefit from an increase in funding. In September 2011 the borough experienced a flood that caused millions of dollars in damage to more than 400 homes. Subsequently, West Pittston has revamped efforts to consider construction of a levee, but a backlog in requests for the SFRMP continues to delay federal analysis of this effort. 

 “The 2011 flood that devastated West Pittston serves as a stark reminder that it is far more economical to manage flooding before it occurs, rather than wait until the damage hits,” Senator Casey said. “The Army Corps of Engineers is currently backed up with requests from municipalities like West Pittston that need assistance to help protect their communities from damaging floods. I urge my colleagues to strongly consider helping to ease this backlog by providing the additional funding.”

 The SFRMP is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1948. Qualifying projects are only accepted if they are economical, environmentally sound, and technically feasible. In Fiscal Year 2014 the SFRMP received $15 million in federal funding. 

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey Supporting WP Army Corps Study Request

In June, Senator Pat Toomey sent a letter of support for West Pittston’s application for a flood assessment study to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In his letter Toomey said:

Luzerne County, and West Pittston Borough in particular, experienced significant flooding and widespread damage from severe weather caused by Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. Since that event, Borough residents and officials have banded together to develop measures and pursue opportunities to help the area recover and move forward.

According to local officials, West Pittston believes this study would be helpful in determining options for identifying flood protection measures to best assist the Borough plan for the future. Accordingly, I am requesting that this application receive full and fair consideration for approval. I would further ask that that the Corps keep my office updated regarding the status of this application.

Sunday Dispatch -- August 20, 2014

During Wednesday’s meeting between the Army Corp, FEMA, and local officials, West Pittston Mayor Tony Denisco questioned the possibility of expanding the levee system to protect his community, which is unprotected and saw 859 homes and businesses underwater in 2011. Col. Trey Jordan, Baltimore district commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, replied that raising or expanding the levee is highly unlikely because of the huge expense. “My gut is telling me that although those 850 homes are very, very important, the benefit won’t be worth the amount of federal dollars,” Jordan said.

    West Pittston Tomorrow and the residents at large are interested in an analysis of our “spill basin” not a gut reaction from the Colonel.   We have stated here before that an analysis will reveal that West Pittston has endured many more millions in damage than the original 1994 Army Corp study predicted and TS Lee proved.  As Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Chris Belleman said the issue is simply the passage of time since the levee-raising project. “A lot’s changed in 30 years,” Belleman said. “The frequency and intensity of storms has increased, we’ve got increased land development in the watershed, the science has improved, the technology has improved to do this type of modeling. These have all coalesced together to come up with the results that we’re seeing today, 30 years after the fact.”

  To clarify, West Pittston has requested a section 205.... PRE-analysis study.... of the Army Corp, which would cost the Corp, relatively speaking, a measly $100K. We obviously want an opportunity to take advantage of the improved science and technology for modeling alluded to above by Chris Belleman. When questioned as to the delay in a study, Tony Clarke of the Army Corp responded that “At this time, there have been no New Starts funded through the FY14 Work Plan.”

  Accordingly, West Pittston is expected to sit and wait in harms way for pre-analysis funding while a new mapping and improvement analysis is about to begin. Furthermore increased freeboard protection is contemplated for our downstream Plymouth and Hanover Twp. neighbors, because, as the Corp laments “unfortunately they did not have the factor of safety we needed.” West Pittston’s present day safety factor is ZERO, increased protection downstream to enhance their “safety factor” would only exacerbate induced flooding in our upstream Borough. Would “unfair” aptly describe the situation....or is “outrageous” a better adjective?

  If funding is available for plans to remap the flood plain around the Wyoming Valley Levee System, a four-year endeavor which will begin next year with a process called the Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedure, than surely a pre-analysis section 205 can begin today of West Pittston.

  This is a clarion call to our elected, State, and Federal Congressman and Executives to reach out to the powers that be to make it happen. The voters of West Pittston remain intently interested.

Bob Russin
West Pittston Tomorrow....Levee committee

Letters to the Editor
Times Leader / Citizens' Voice/ Sunday Dispatch
September 28, 2014

The weary residents of West Pittston have had a difficult summer listening to the Army Corps of Engineers and Flood Authority Director Chris Belleman’s inaccurate, often infuriating, canned presentations and evasions to fact-based questions about flood protection.  

For starters, inferences were made that West Pittston was never a part of the original WV Levee system. WP Tomorrow, on more than one occasion, has made public the original, detailed 1983 Army Corps drawings of a levee to protect our Borough.

The Army Corps itself concluded in 1981 that “all the various components of local flood protection in the Wyoming Valley function as a single, integrated hydraulic system. Economically and socially the Wyoming Valley also exists as a system and individual parts cannot be analyzed separately because of the complex interactions. . . . plan formulation and evaluation activities proceeded as if the existing projects were one system.” Furthermore, the Army Corp predicted in 1983 that, if West Pittston was not included in the system, 4 feet of induced flooding would occur in the Borough with weather similar to Agnes.

 In 1986 Congress appropriated funds to design and construct the WV levee raising project, which consisted of raising the levee 3 to 5 ft., in five segments, including Exeter/West Pittston.

Downstream also had problems. The Corps predicted that Sunbury would have increased induced flooding by 1.5 ft. and Bloomsburg 0.6 ft. Both were stumbling blocks for the five-segment WV levee system. The solution was to raise the levees in Sunbury and remove an old railroad river bridge in Bloomsburg. Both mitigation measures were satisfactory to the town’s citizens.

 In 1990, with costs escalating, the Army Corps issued a new report on induced flooding due to the proposed levee. It concluded that the $68 million authorized in 1981 for non-structural mitigation for communities left unprotected by the levee was too costly. This was the beginning of the end for a West Pittston levee.

By 1993-94, in an attempt to push the project forward by cutting costs, Luzerne County proposed its own Levee Raising Project Mitigation Plan costing only $37 million 

Conveniently in 1995, the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors recommended that the West Pittston segment be included as a mitigation feature -- no levee -- and not as part of the levee project. Contrary to the Army Corps statement about “a single, integrated hydraulic system,” Rivers and Harbors reasoned that the West Pittston levee was separable and not integral to the main project.

The Army Corps removed West Pittston as part of the levee system freeing $24 million -- the cost of a West Pittston levee -- to be used elsewhere. The Exeter portion which is upstream of West Pittston at Hicks Creek was built, making West Pittston the only gap and the spill basin for Wyoming Valley.

Not only was the entire project cost lowered by $24 million by West Pittston’s removal, but additional millions were saved by eliminating the need to mitigate elsewhere in the valley. The Army Corps said in its 1990 study that “this change [no levee in W. Pittston], in effect, would lower the water surface profile throughout the reach where Port Blanchard and Plainsville are located.”

Because the Army Corps had now created a “spill basin” in West Pittston, predicted induced flooding in towns like Port Blanchard and Plainsville were reduced from 4 ft. to 1 foot. Accordingly, millions less were required for non-structural mitigation in those areas and, overall, the ever-increasing production costs due to delays were lowered. The stalled project moved forward . . . on the backs of the residents of West Pittston.

Of course some money had to be set aside to appease West Pittston and other unprotected communities when the water came rushing in.

Luzerne County’s plan set aside $11.2 million for what was called “non-site specific structural elements” which were to include property acquisition, structure raising, structure flood proofing and small-scale public works. Also $5 million was set aside under “non-site specific elements” for flood insurance vouchers, $2 million for a flood warning and response program, and $1.5 million for a floodplain management program. 

To satisfy the fears of downstream communities, the county plan called for $1.5 million to raise the walls in Sunbury and $1.8 million for the Bloomsburg bridge removal. Those were completed as part of the WV project. Last -- but not least -- inexplicably $14 million of the total $37 million was budgeted for then Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s recreational dream -- an inflatable dam for the Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre.  

That inflatable dam, by the way, required no justification with a Benefit to Cost Ration (BCR) of 1 to 1, the same BCR that West Pittston flunked with a 0.3 to 1. The Army Corps, in its report, called the dam “economically justifiable.” The recent Wilkes-Barre twin portals project, costing ironically $24 million, required no BCR for justification and the Solomon Creek project in Wilkes-Barre was a section 205 study many years ago with a BCR of only 0.55. 

So where does West Pittston stand today nearly three years after the devastation of Tropical Storm Lee? 

None of the promised mitigation funds ever reached West Pittston. Our homes were not flood-proofed or elevated. No flood insurance vouchers to alleviate exorbitant premiums arrived. Asked why, former Flood Authority Director Jim Brozena lamented that even though the mitigation funds were promised they are subject to the annual budget constraints. Translated: Here’s our IOU, West Pittston, but we’ll decide when to honor our promises.

We are grateful to the Army Corps for sharing some information with us over the summer, but we won’t fall victim, yet again, to incomplete information and false promises. The very future of our beloved homes and community is in jeopardy.

In July Belleman said that the Army Corps looked at a length of river from Sunbury to Lackawanna County and found that in some areas the base flood elevation is going to change anywhere from 1 to 4 feet. “That’s significant. That changes everything,” he said.

Belleman warned, “once (Corps) had this information and … confirmed it, it would have been malpractice to not give this information to the public so they could make the appropriate decisions to how they conduct their lives, where they live and so forth.” 

What does that mean? What is our fate? Will we welcome the heavy equipment as it rolls in to town to build our levee.....or will we be disappointed when we learn that its purpose is to dig a bigger “spill basin” so additional flood protection is not needed downstream?

Yes, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to residents of West Pittston that, “malpractice” is the operative word.

Bob Russin
Levee Project Chairman
West Pittston Tomorrow
West Pittston Tomorrow 
Launches Levee Campaign
Spring 2014

West Pittston Tomorrow is asking West Pittston residents and neighbors in surrounding communities to sign a petition to Federal and State officials urging that the borough get the flood protection accorded other West Side residents.  West Pittston Tomorrow plans to publicly present the signed petitions to elected officials. The West Pittston Tomorrow Board of Directors urges neighbors and friends to read the petition carefully and, if they agree, sign the petition. 
West Pittston Residents Sign On in Push for a Levee

Signs proclaiming “Levee Now!” and “Save Our Town” are going up all over West Pittston Saturday, September 27. But the main line of message boards will be along the banks of the Susquehanna River where residents want a levee built to protect the town from flooding. 

West Pittston Tomorrow sees the signs as a “paper levee” that they hope will draw attention to the need to fill in the 1.4-mile gap in the Wyoming Valley levee system.

The signs were in place from the end of September until just before Halloween 2014.  They are begin stored for the winter and will be back in the spring.