A recent ice jam on the Susquehanna River damaged the River Common fishing pier and other park walls along the water’s edge near the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, officials said Tuesday.
Although the River Common park is adjacent to the Wyoming Valley Levee, county government owns the recreational amenity and will be responsible for repairing the damage, said Christopher Belleman, executive director of the Flood Protection Authority that oversees and maintains the flood control system.
Belleman said the pier damage does not jeopardize flood control, and he informed county Operational Services Division Head Edmund O’Neill of the problem.
O’Neill said Tuesday he is assessing the damage.
County Manager C. David Pedri said county engineers will verify the damage has no impact on flood control and address any safety concerns before they develop a plan for permanent repairs. An insurance claim will be submitted seeking coverage, but Pedri said he does not know if the policy would cover damage from an ice jam.
The park was revamped for $23 million in 2009 with the addition of the fishing pier/landing, a new 750-seat amphitheater, walkways, extensive landscaping and a fountain that is no longer operating due to needed repairs.
While periodic damage from flooding and ice was anticipated, officials at the time deemed the recreation project worthwhile to boost the downtown, increase recreational opportunities and reconnect people to the river.
Critics have since complained the park is insufficiently maintained and underutilized. In response, King’s College and Wilkes University volunteered to contribute $20,000 each per year for park event programming and maintenance in an agreement county council finalized in November.
The ice jam deposited many trees and debris along the levee toe and displaced stone riprap in spots along the 16-mile flood control system, Belleman said. In his initial review, he did not detect any damage that would diminish the levee’s effectiveness if the river rises before repairs are completed.
Levee maintenance technicians will remove the trees and make repairs “as soon as the ice melts,” Belleman said during Tuesday’s authority meeting.
Any costs associated with levee repairs must be covered by the authority, but Belleman is confident the work is more cosmetic and can be completed in-house.
The authority relies on revenue from a fee on 14,153 levee-protected properties. The levee fee increased last year because authority officials said the $1.2 million it had been generating annually was not keeping pace with the more than $1.8 million needed each year to maintain the system so it is primed for the next flood.
In 2017, the authority ended up collecting $1.635 million, or 87 percent of the $1.87 million billed, Belleman said.
The 2018 fee bills are set to be mailed April 1.
Attorney Jason Leininger, of Portnoff Law Associates, provided an update Tuesday on the company’s first year handling the collection of delinquent levee fees. To date, the company brought in $604,005 of the $1.348 million in payments owed from 2009 through 2016, or 44.8 percent, he said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.