WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — We are learning more about a meeting Friday that will focus on the levees that protect Wilkes-Barre and other parts of the Wyoming Valley from the Susquehanna River.
Federal officials will release a report to local officials on the condition of some parts of the levee. The FEMA report is expected to show some deficiencies in these levees. Basically, the amount of protection they can provide and as a result, Eyewitness News is told all of this could expand the areas that are now considered flood zones.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown and the city’s Director of Operations inspected the Laurel Run Creek area in the northern part of the city. It is an area that has been known to flood.
This inspection was set long before word broke that a report on the levee system that protects the southern part of the city will show that they may have problems.
“First of all, our main concern is the safety of our residents who live in the area here,” Brown said.
While they are not on the levees today, those levees are on their mind.
“We know in 2011 the levees did what it was supposed to do. They performed well. Our concern is what has changed. What do we have to participate to make it work for us?” said Butch Frati, Director of Operations for Wilkes-Barre.
As Eyewitness News reported Tuesday, former mayor Tom McGroarty obtained documents from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) which oversees levee systems. The documents show the levees between Market Street and south are inadequate or non-accredited. As a result, many more people will be placed in what will now be considered the flood zone.
Jim Brozena runs a consulting firm. For more than 20 years, he worked as an engineer for Luzerne County. Much of that time he was focusing on the levees.
“The size of the flood plain is going to increase. Once it does, people who have mortgages have to go ahead and secure flood insurance because it’s mandatory with the mortgage,” he said.
State representative Aaron Kaufer is concerned that many residents will be blindsided by the FEMA report.
“People who maybe previously weren’t required to get insurance but now will be required to with these new maps. With that the increase in premiums of when you’re put in to these new types of maps is very concerning. It’s big numbers we are talking about here,” he said.
Agolino’s restaurant in West Pittston has been flooded three times in recent years. The owner, Joe Agolino, knows all too well how expensive flood insurance can be.
“It’s going up drastically and it keeps going. There’s no control. You know you can’t go shopping for rates. They are set by the state–or federal government. We’re in a little bit of a bind,” said Agolino.
A FEMA spokesperson Eyewitness News spoke to said they will meet with local officials on Friday to discuss their findings regarding the levees and what may have to be done to resolve those deficiencies.
That spokesperson says it is a closed meeting to allow the officials to be briefed on the issues and then public meetings will be held.