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Lawmaker goes to bat for more levee funding

A federal lawmker mentioned Little League during his testimony this week before a House committee as he asked for more funding for the Williamsport levee deficiencies.

“The home of Little League Baseball cannot be the home of the next preventative flooding disaster,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, in testimony before the House Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources.

“We know problems with the levee exist now and now is the time to act,” he added, arguing more funding needs to put this year into the reauthorization bill of the Water Resources Development Act.

Earlier this week, the county was notified it would receive a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Another $1.4 million is needed to match the grant.

“While we’re off to a good start, additional federal investment is necessary to see this project through,” Keller said.

Currently, relief wells, cross pipes and two I-walls are at risk of failure without significant rehabilitation and improvements, Keller said.

“The effects of a possible flood are nothing short of devastating,” he said.

Just under half of the county’s 116,000 residents live in the four highest-risk jurisdictions — the city, Loyalsock Township, Old Lycoming Township and South Williamsport.

Additionally, thousands of commercial, industrial and institutional properties protected by the levee, around half of the county’s largest employers – including Textron and ShopVac — and two institutions of higher learning, Pennsylvania College of Technology and Lycoming College, are at risk of major losses, Keller said.

“The assessed value of the properties is nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars,” Keller said.

Also, 4,400 residential properties with a value of nearly $300 million are at risk, he said.

As for the matching funds and additional financial resources, Penn Strategies Inc., a city economic development consulting firm, was approached by the state Department of Environmental Protection regarding potentially receiving additional funding as part of a necessary $1.4 million match.

Overall, the estimated cost of repairing and maintaining the levee system could exceed $16 million, said Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies. Department regional spokeswoman Megan Lehman said Thursday that she would be checking with Harrisburg officials in the department further on the matter.

DEP has been in contact with the city regarding the levee project and will continue to work cooperatively to advance the project now that federal funding has been secured, Lehman said.

“No specific funding commitment has been made at this time,” she added. “DEP’s Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands may provide financial and technical assistance to municipal sponsors of federal flood protection projects,” she said.

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