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Dike takes toll on industry flood insurance

One business in the Reach Road Industrial Park may see higher flood insurance rates because its location is near the levee, which remains uncertified, a county official and a city consulting company president said.

Shop-Vac, 2323 Reach Road, a vacuum manufacturer, was given an insurance quote based on 2015 levee information, which showed levee deficiencies in the process of being repaired, said Fran McJunkin, who is overseeing the levee recertification efforts in the department of planning.

“We knew this day was coming,” McJunkin said, adding she contacted the insurer and explained how the county and multi-municipal plan of fixing the inadequacies has been under way for several years. Attempts to reach Shop-Vac officials were not successful.

The levee protects 12 miles of properties, including most of the city along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and parts of Old Lycoming and Loyalsock townships, in what’s known as tie-back walls.

It is estimated the levee protects between $2 billion to $4 billion of real estate.

If not, many of the city residents and business owners would need to pay for annual flood insurance, according to Mark Benner, city civil engineer.

The dike, built by Army Corps of Engineers, must achieve Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, which took effect following the levee breaches in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As part of the wake-up call, the county will use $2 million of secured funding for replacing relief wells, perhaps as soon as this year, to begin to show the Army Corps of Engineers that steps are being taken to fix the flood-protection system, McJunkin said.

“We have been warning about this possibility for at least three years now,” said Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies Inc., the city economic development consulting firm that has helped find levee recertification project funds.

“My big concern is that facilities on Reach Road – major employers near the levee – may begin to look at the potential of flood insurance increases and look elsewhere to relocate,” he said.

It is not clear whether that decision will be for the company managers, or other business leaders to think about, he said.

The estimated cost for the rest of the repairs to certify the levee as acceptable hovers near $16 million, if done in the next five years, Fitzgerald said. Repairs include drainage crosspipe replacements, increasing the height of the wall along Lycoming Creek and adding a stronger and more flexible interior metal beam in the dike, he said.

Less of a conern for recertification purposes, but also on the minds of officials, including the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority, are the nine pump stations, which are showing their age, built in the 1950s, but which the city uses as a stormwater discharge and the authority as discharge points of effluent, which is treated water.

Cost for construction and materials is expected to increase as the months wear on, Fitzgerald said, adding, “it’s time to create a multi-municipal levee authority to address these ongoing issues as we work on the levee.”

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