Popular path atop levee to be repaired; flood authority creates deputy post

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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Cracks and bumps on the popular asphalt path atop the Wyoming Valley Levee should be repaired this year because funding is now available, Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman said Wednesday.

The authority has also created a new deputy director position with a salary to be determined.

As for the repair project, the state last week awarded a $100,000 grant from casino gambling revenue to cover it. The authority had budgeted another $200,000 for the work, Belleman said.

Quad 3 Group designed specifications to repair the 13 miles of path and has estimated the project will cost $260,000, Belleman said.

Bids will be advertised soon to complete the work in 2018. If proposals exceed the available amount, the project may be split into phases to be finished when additional funds become available.

The path was added more than 20 years ago as part of the levee-raising project.

It was designed primarily for vehicles to access the levee for maintenance and Susquehanna River flood monitoring without causing ruts and other damage. Bikers, joggers and walkers instantly gravitated to the path for recreation.

“We allow safe, responsible recreational use of the levee road for recreation as long as people behave,” Belleman said.

Brass-disc location identifiers that the Army Corps of Engineers embedded in concrete in the path also will be removed because some of them have heaved up and could create a tripping hazard, Belleman said. The widespread use of GPS made these identifiers obsolete.

The project also will include shoulder repairs and surface resealing, he said.

New position

A new authority deputy position also was created at this week’s authority session, although compensation and job duties are still under discussion, Belleman said.

Four authority board members voted for the position, while remaining member Richard Adams objected, characterizing the position as unnecessary.

Belleman said he supports the position and filling it with an engineer because he needs help managing projects and wants someone else to be trained on the complex flood-control system.

The 16-mile levee includes:

• Gaps that must be filled with gates, panels or thousands of sand bags during Susquehanna River flooding.

• Eight electrical substations with 27 transformers and 9 miles of underground and overhead transmission lines.

• More than 120 underground wells that relieve water pressure that could compromise the levee.

• Thirteen pump stations with 39 deep-well pumps that handle drainage from the land side of the levee when it can no longer naturally feed into the Susquehanna.

The authority has 11 staffers, and Belleman is the only engineer.

“It’s hard to be effective when you’re spread so thin,” said Belleman, 63. “I’m not going to be here forever.”

Belleman said he already had significant understanding of the levee system when he filled the executive director position after Jim Brozena’s January 2013 retirement.

Belleman was previously an assistant county engineer. County staffers in that position were more involved in the levee before the county’s push to make the authority move out of the county engineering office and become a standalone entity with its own office and staff in 2015.

He also had served on the flood authority as assistant county engineer. The county’s home rule charter, which took effect in 2012, changed the composition of the authority board to five council-appointed citizens.

“I’ve been expressing concern about the workload and letting institutional knowledge go out the door without a plan in place. That would be a disservice to the public,” Belleman said.

He believes his future replacement must be equipped to hit the ground running because the levee is crucial.

”There’s no tolerance for error. You have to be 100 percent effective or people could die and millions if not billions of dollars in property damage could result,” he said. “This is something that we can’t play with. There’s too much at stake.”

The board did not set a deadline to firm up details of the deputy position and publicly advertise it, Belleman said.

The authority’s sole ongoing revenue stream is a fee on 14,153 levee-protected properties that can be used for flood control only. The 2018 levee-fee bills will be mailed April 1.

Belleman
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_TTL012618EMA.jpgBelleman

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.