WILLIAMSPORT – Federal funding is what Lycoming County will need to complete the Susquehanna Levee recertification, but it may take a presidential order to get it, according to county officials.
While some of the early phases of the roughly $11.8 million recertification will be covered by state and local funding, it’s repairs to the levee’s I-Wall, or flood wall, that give the county planning department cause for concern. The I-Wall repairs are estimated as high as $4 million, according to the county planning department.
The issues with the I-Wall predominantly are due to poor standards from the original design in 1939, which was crafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Deputy Director Fran McJunkin said.
“We could not have fixed that by any amount of operational maintenance,” McJunkin said. “They’re an old technology and old design.”
The I-Wall dilemma has caused contention between the county and the Army Corps, which has refused to cost share with the county on the repairs.
“This is the game,” McJunkin said. “The corps just says no, until they’re told to say yes.”
The only entity able to tell the Army Corps to find funding is the White House, she added.
“We’re asking the president to please have the White House help the Pentagon find the money to fix the I-Wall,” McJunkin said.
Infrastructure is a key issue to the president, his campaign Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told NorthcentralPa.com during Donald Trump’s recent visit to Montoursville. She declined to comment specifically on the levee.
“It’s incredibly important to the president to get infrastructure done,” McEnany said, adding that Trump’s infrastructure plan proposes $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, $200 billion of which will be new government spending. A fourth of that will go to rural projects, she said.
The plan requires commitment from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Shumer, McEnany said. A similar plan previously was proposed in 2018, but failed to make it through Congress.
Meanwhile, McJunkin said the levee is the “single greatest economic issue” facing the Greater Williamsport Area and surrounding region.
“In the whole Pentagon and the whole Army Corps, we can’t find $4 million to help with a design issue?” McJunkin asked.
County planning department Hazard Mitigation Planner Chelsea Blair said one of the reasons the Army Corps is unwilling to help fund the levee is because it held during flood Agnes in 1972, the region’s worst-recorded flood to date.
However, she added, Agnes only reached about 70% of the levee’s capacity, which is lower than the 100-year-flood capacity the recertification requirements are based on.
According to engineer analyses, the levee shows structural issues at about 80% of its capacity. Should the river suffer a 100-year-flood, the levee could fail, Blair said.
Northcentralpa.com contributed to this report.