Troop of Local, State and Federal Officials Tour Williamsport Seawall, Pumping Stations | News, Sports, Jobs

Williamsport City Flood Control Director Kevin Ames, far left, chats with Congressman Fred Keller, Lycoming County Commissioner Scott Metzger, Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter, and Lycoming County Commissioner Richard Mirabito, far right, at one of the flood mitigation pump stations in Williamsport about the need for system upgrades to protect the city from future flooding Friday afternoon. DAVE KENNEDY / Sun-Gazette

A US lawmaker joined a crowd of others on Friday afternoon for a tour of the Williamsport Dike, a 20-mile flood control system built 70 years ago in the 1950s.

“I was really happy that we were able to come together and determine a way forward”, said U.S. Representative Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, representing the 12th Congressional District.

Keller first met with officials to discuss the viability of the dike, its repair needs, and potential financing and construction solutions.

During a visit to the pumping station, he was optimistic that the dike would be recertified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This is not only important to the town of Williamsport, but to Lycoming County and the entire North Central region,” he said.

Today, the dike is showing its age, as the pumping stations that force water out of the city require upgrades to prevent breakdowns during flood events.

Other repairs needed are the cross pipes that drain the flood waters and, the most significant expense, the concrete flood walls along Lycoming Creek need to be reinforced and taller to withstand the next 100 year flood.

The project is in the millions of dollars, a very prohibitive cost to the city, the borough of South Williamsport and the townships of Old Lycoming and Loyalsock, which are part of the dike system, Keller said.

In 2012, the process of recertifying and accrediting the 70-year-old flood protection system with the Federal Emergency Management Agency began.

“We need to do our part at all levels of government to protect our communities like Williamsport, which has a significant dike system that covers the town itself, South Williamsport and the townships of Loyalsock and Old Lycoming, and has many benefits. for the Commonwealth. , “ Keller said.

Earlier this week, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell testified before the House Oversight Committee to discuss the dangers of aging infrastructure, among others.

Criswell stressed the importance of evaluating projects that are decades old and determining how best to improve mitigation efforts.

“I see this meeting as an opportunity to do just that”, Keller said.

He clarified that infrastructure should be defined as flood control projects, roads and bridges, and broadband internet, and not what some career politicians think should be included in legislation and labeled as an infrastructure bill.

“Every resident of the Greater Williamsport area has an interest in this project, and I appreciate the good work that has been done by local stakeholders who have worked together over the years for the benefit of our constituents.” Keller said.

The meeting fostered an open dialogue on the concerns about the dike – regardless of political party and it set a way forward to address many issues including aging pumping stations, the need to replace cross-pipe sections draining water into waterways and rebuilding dike walls along the side of Lycoming Creek.

“I’m really excited,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, of the Baltimore District of the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

“It’s an excellent partnership with the inter-agencies”, said Pinchasin.

She underlined how collaboration in this community is a “Clear commitment” to the improvement of these dikes and in the hope of alleviating the cost of the insurance which they would have to carry.

Pinchasin said she is looking at the challenge in a holistic way, with a system risk assessment needed to identify areas that need to be improved immediately to achieve FEMA certification and to help work simultaneously with the community on the system for her. improvement.

County, city on the same page to get recertification

“We’re making headway when we say we’re going to have to reach out to the public and find ways to continue to get financial support,” County Commissioner Rick Mirabito said.

Mirabito was joined by Commissioners Scott Metzger and Tony Mussare.

“We have obtained the support of the federal, state and local governments on finances”, said Mirabito.

“The public will have to step in and understand when a proposal is presented for ongoing maintenance, that we need to maintain the dike for the next 50 years” said Mirabito.

“We appreciate Col., Army Corps, Congressman Keller and others with FEMA and the county who have come together today on this extremely important issue, which is the recertification and accreditation of dikes, said Mayor Derek Slaughter.

“After the meeting, we established a way forward to make sure that if we have a high water event, the dike system will protect people,” Slaughter said. “We have a lot of work to do and it won’t be overnight. “

The city has the option of using part of its $ 25.4 million US bailout funds for dike upgrades.

Additionally, the city and county are working with Keller Partners, a Washington, DC-based economic development firm that works with the Williamsport congressional delegation. Keller was involved in securing the US Economic Development Administration, which previously allocated $ 5.6 million for the dike project.

Keller, who was on tour, said the challenge was to work as a team on the sea wall, which was built by the Army Corps.

After the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA demanded that strict guidelines be followed to recertify dikes built by the Corps, otherwise those protected in the floodplain would have to pay for flood insurance.

Storms get worse, increase

While this summer is a sign of things to come, the weather has affected many communities across the country, including many in the North East.

A series of natural disasters have hit the United States in recent years, and dike protection and flood hazards have rightly garnered a lot of attention from federal, state, and local government entities.

Since being completed by the Corps of Engineers in 1955, the 20-mile seawall system has withstood decades of storms, severe weather and rising waters that had damaged large parts of the city before. construction of the dike.

In addition to the obvious benefits to businesses and individuals, the seawall protects approximately 45% of the county’s workforce, 1,500 commercial, industrial and institutional properties and 4,400 other residential properties.

It is estimated that the seawall will protect $ 4 billion in residential, commercial, industrial and non-profit real estate, according to estimates from the county planning office.

It is the second largest dike system in the Baltimore Engineering District.

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