Costly levee repairs spur municipalities to hire lobbyist in search of grant fund

A lobbyist firm who has proven skill at obtaining federal government grants for municipal projects such as the levee repairs needed in Lycoming County may be hired.

The city public works and finance committees Tuesday gave positive recommendations to accept a memorandum of agreement between the county, city, Old Lycoming, Loyalsock townships and South Williamsport — all communities protected by the levee.

The county wants to hire Thomas Keller and Associates for one year at $6,000 a month, or $72,000. The county’s contribution will be $36,000, while the city will pay $18,000 and the remaining protected communities $6,000 each, according to Rebecca Haladay, city engineer.

At the contract’s end, it may be reviewed and extended for another six months, Haladay told both the public works and finance committees.

The levee requires repairs of its relief wells, raising the height to protect communities from large-scale flooding events and the wall along Lycoming Creek must be strengthened, according to Haladay.

These cost estimates have not been provided by the engineers but will be within a month, she said.

The levee must be repaired in order for it to meet federal guidelines to prevent those protected from it from having to pay high federal flood insurance costs, Smith said.

The recertification process began in 2012 and has taken several years, however, along the way the government officials have granted extensions to the city because it is showing good faith in trying to make the necessary improvements.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said the levee recertification is a burden on taxpayers and has cost nearly $1 million to date. The potential cost for repairing and raising the levee could be around $10 million, he said.

Keller was successful in helping the Williamsport Sanitary Authority to obtain $3.4 million for sanitary improvements on West Fourth and Pine streets.