Jan. 25--Officials met Friday in what was described as the start of a "multi-year process" to address changes to sections of the levee system along the Susquehanna River and the possible corresponding effects on flood risk maps for the protected areas.
There are no structural issues with the levee along the Plymouth and Hanover Township/Wilkes-Barre stretches, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency stressed. But those sections no longer meet the federal requirements for accreditation, said Nicholas Morici, spokesman for FEMA Region III.
"However, the purpose of these meetings was to start the conversation on options the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority and the communities of Plymouth, Wilkes-Barre and Hanover have to get the levees accredited or revise the mapping around the levee systems. The Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority is currently working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pursue accreditation for both levees," Morici said in an email.
At issue is the safety buffer or freeboard at the top of the levee in those stretches. Previously, Chris Belleman, executive director of the Flood Protection Authority, said the freeboard was about 2.3 feet, less than the 3-foot standard required for full accreditation.
The requirements assure the levee is "tall enough, strong enough and properly maintained and operated to protect residents from the 1% annual chance flood (also known as the 100-year flood)," Morici said.
The Flood Insurance Rate Map for the levees indicate it protects for the 1% chance. Morici noted there are "no near-term changes " to the maps. They were last updated in 2012 after the river reached the record crest of 42.66 feet on Sept. 9, 2011.
"Today's meetings gave local officials a preview of a multi-year process that will include options for levee accreditation and new flood mapping. There are no changes in flood insurance requirements for the communities at this time," Morici said.
Additional takeaways from the meetings were:
--Changes to the maps will only be made in consultation with the Flood Protection Authority and the communities of Wilkes-Barre, Hanover Township and Plymouth.
--The Flood Protection Authority has requested additional analysis from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to pursue accreditation.
--Each community will be working to engage residents about flood risk associated with the levees.
Attending the FEMA meetings at the Flood Protection Authority's office in Plains Township were officials with the Authority, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, Hanover Township, Plymouth and Wilkes-Barre.
"After today's meetings each local partner will discuss next steps and continue to coordinate and collaborate with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Additionally, opportunities to gather and exchange public feedback on the matter will be addressed by the local communities," Morici said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.
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