I-Team Exclusive: FEMA Responds: Levee Meetings Scheduled

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UPDATE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency responded to Eyewitness News’ request for information about possible issues with the levee system along the Susquehanna River.

“FEMA has been engaging with several communities throughout Luzerne County about levee systems. Our goal is to make sure that communities and residents understand the protection provided by a levee and that our flood maps accurately reflect the risk of flooding.

FEMA is holding two meetings on Friday – one about the Plymouth Levee System and another about the Wilkes-Barre/Hanover Levee System. We are meeting with current local officials from each community and the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority which owns both of these levees. As you may know there are several levee systems in the county, and the two systems we are discussing on Friday are separate from the Mill-Creek Levee system which is owned by Wilkes-Barre.

Flood risk changes over time due to a variety of factors including changes in rainfall amounts and land development. As a result, FEMA regularly updates flood maps throughout the country. A recent study of the Susquehanna River has shown significant changes in flood risk along the river. We are working with communities that have levees all along the river to evaluate how this increase in flood potential impacts the protection provided by the levees. Each levee is unique, so we work with each community to do detailed engineering analysis of flood risk around the levees.

We’re all interested in keeping people and their property safe from flooding. FEMA’s role is to analyze and map flood hazards so that people can protect themselves and make informed decisions. In areas with levees, FEMA has to follow Federal requirements for how to analyze and map flood hazards. If the levee is tall enough, strong enough, and properly operated and maintained, the levee can be accredited and shown as reducing flood hazards on the FEMA flood map. If the levee cannot meet the standards for accreditation, the levee is called non-accredited and there are different mapping options that need to be discussed with the community. The upcoming meetings are a standard part of FEMA’s process in working with levee communities and the purpose of these meetings is for local officials to learn about the different options for analyzing and mapping flood hazard behind the levee systems.  Any changes to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps in the levee-impacted areas will only be made after this coordination process with the community. However, FEMA always recommends that residents consider their flood risk and insurance options. Residents can find out more about flood insurance options at floodsmart.gov. Since these meetings are held in coordination with the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority and current local officials, we’d recommend reaching out to their offices as well.”

Corey DeMuro
External Affairs
FEMA Region III

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The former mayor of Wilkes-Barre is raising concerns and asking a lot of questions just days before a closed-door meeting is scheduled with federal officials to discuss the system.

The levee system in Wilkes-Barre is supposed to protect the city and those south of here when the Susquehanna River rises around 41 to 44 feet. But former Wilkes-Barre mayor Tom McGroarty says he has concerns about this levee.

Former Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom McGroarty spoke with Eyewitness News Tuesday about what he says is an “unaccredited” levee system.

Tom McGroarty knows a few things about flooding and flood protection.
He was mayor for eight years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I was here when the levee was raised as was you. If some things have to be fixed we have to fix them. We can’t let people’s insurance go crazy. It has to be addressed,” said McGroarty.

McGroarty obtained documents showing that there is concern on the part of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the levee system. The levee system could be classified as “unaccredited.”

“I’m very concerned that FEMA is going to have a private meeting this Friday and they are going to announce that they believe the levee may not be sufficient height in certain areas basically south of the Market Street Bridge,” said McGroarty.

The map shows the areas in question that could have problems. McGroarty advised the previous mayor, Tony George, on levee issues and has sent letters to the new mayor and council, raising red flags. Current mayor George Brown says he will attend the meeting with FEMA.

Lead I-Team reporter Andy Mehalshick sat down with Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown about the levee system in Wilkes-Barre.

“The most important to me and my administration is the safety of our residents that’s number one making sure they have proper flood protection,” Brown said.

Frank Hine has lived near the Susquehanna River his entire life. His home was flooded during the great Agnes flood in 1972 and had close calls in 1996 and 2011.

“It seems a lot more volatile at this point than ever before. I think if anything raising them or dredging the river I don’t know,” Hine said.

As for Friday’s meeting with FEMA…

“I just ask that since it concerns so many people, their property, their homes, why not have the meeting public, not behind closed doors,” McGroarty added.

We did reach out to FEMA for comment. A spokesperson said they would get back to us with a reply or comment about the meeting. We haven’t yet heard back.

The levee system would impact not only Wilkes-Barre but also Hanover Township, Plymouth and other points to the south.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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