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Planner: $1M is ‘first step’ toward levee recertification

The Lycoming County commissioners will formally accept a $1 million grant Thursday for work on the levee relief wells, as announced by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, earlier this month.

The grant, from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, covers 50 percent of the $2 million relief well replacement project for the levee, said Fran McJunkin, deputy director of GIS for county planning.

The grant is the first step toward getting the levee recertified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Work that needs to be done to be recertified was broken down and prioritized. Relief well replacements were deemed “the most urgent need,” McJunkin said.

“This relief well portion was the first step, and I’m excited that we’re going to be able to start work,” she said.

According to local estimates, the levee protects about $2 billion in real estate in Williamsport, South Williamsport and parts of Old Lycoming and Loyalsock townships. Without FEMA certification and compliance, residents and businesses protected by the levee would need to purchase flood insurance.

Insurance rates based on the “uncertain” designation caused by a decertified levee can be higher than those for people who live in a designated floodplain, she said.

If “most of the people” end up getting insurance, it’s estimated that “at least $19 million” would leave the county each year, she said.

“This is a really, really important economic issue,” McJunkin said. “From an insurance perspective, it’s an unknown risk that could be catastrophic, so the rates are higher. It’s a reason to make sure we’re certified.”

Although the levee primarily protects only a handful of communities, to have such a large number of dollars leaving the local economy each year would affect the entire county, said Commissioner Rick Mirabito.

“This is a countywide issue. It is not simply the city and South Williamsport and Loyalsock, because that money, ultimately, would affect people’s ability to buy goods and services in the rest of the county,” Mirabito said. “If you pluck out $19 million to pay for insurance, that means people are not going to hire people to put in new bathrooms or to renovate or to buy a house or to go downtown or to go out into other parts of the county.”

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