Change in levee control, funding: A sound idea needing closer look at details

The cost of recertification and repair work on the local levee system to protect against catastrophic flooding is estimated to climb to $15.8 million in five years, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The work is a necessity to adequately protect Greater Williamsport from runaway flooding, a regular concern given the river running through our region and the creeks and streams that feed it.

It is also a necessity to protect property values and owners in the region. Without the Army Corps certification, flood insurance costs to individual property owners will be exorbitant and resale possibilities would be crippled.

The city of Williamsport, even in the best of fiscal circumstances, will struggle to pay the $15.8 million bill.

And the fact is, the levee does not protect just Williamsport.

So Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana is proposing turning over control of the levee system to the city Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority or perhaps setting up a regional authority. The long-term costs for the levee repair and recertification could then be split among ratepayers from all of the Greater Williamsport municipalities rather than just Williamsport taxpayers. That seems fair as the authority’s footprint lines up pretty well with the levee.

That is not a bailout for the city. Rather, it’s a pragmatic funding solution given the footprint and impact of the levee and deserves a more detailed look.

The next step is to get City Council more informed on the idea and then have a full public airing of the details of what the administration has in mind. And, it should go without saying, such a plan can’t be foisted on neighboring municipalities without a full detailing of how they would be impacted.

The principle is sound, but the details of the deal have to be fair not just to the city but to everyone else involved. The best way to assure that is to get everyone fully informed and invested in the idea.