Levee project hopes to move forward in rehabilitation and replacement


The levee project has hit a snag concerning the projected replacement and rehabilitation of some relief wells, county and city officials said.

Relief wells are steel-encased wells that go about 50 feet down and during floods or high water events take seepage pressure off the earthen levee system, which is undergoing a recertification process with the Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Jon Sander, city engineer. The majority of the relief wells are in the City of Williamsport, with the remainder in South Williamsport Borough. Without the certification in place, those protected by the levee would be required to pay for federal flood insurance.

The project has received a total of $1.75 million in the form of two state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants from the Department of State, said Shannon Rossman, executive director of the Lycoming County Department of Planning and Community Development. “Some of the wells need to be rehabilitated and others replaced,” she said, following an update with the Commissioners. The initial grant was for $1 million and a second was secured in the amount of $750,000, she said.

Some hiccups have occurred along the way in what is a complex process to repair or replace deficiencies in the 20-mile levee system protecting the city, South Williamsport, Old Lycoming Township and portions of Loyalsock Township.

“The problem we’re seeing right now is (with) relief wells that either have to be rehabbed or tested to make sure that they’re still operating properly, or they have to be replaced,” Rossman said. “One of the companies was more interested in the replacement wells.”

Companies are available that go in and do the rehabilitation, where they do pressure testing to ensure the wells are properly functioning, she said.

One company that bid in the first round was more interested in rehabbing wells.

“They actually wanted to separate the rehab and replacement processes for bidding purposes,” Rossman said.

A drill plan has to be supplied to the Army Corps of Engineers after their bid is accepted so there were concerns that their plan would not by accepted and that would affect the costs, she said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has protocols but these are primarily general guidance and not specific to relief wells in the levee in question.

Through previous bidding, the county realized it would be more expensive based on the bid received, Rossman said.

The process includes reaching out to the Army Corps of Engineers to resolve any ambiguity in the bidding process.

“So, what we started doing was reaching out to the Army Corps to see if we can build a short review process into the pre-bid so that Army Corps could look at the method of drilling and the mitigation factors that need to occur during drilling,” Rossman said.

Commissioner Tony Mussare questioned why that information needed to be supplied prior to the bidding process because it didn’t make sense that a company wouldn’t know what they’re going to do before bidding.

“Every drilling is a little different,” Rossman said. “What the Army Corps provides is a performance guidance. So, they have X amounts of types of drilling. The company that first drills uses a similar method, but not the exact same. So they have to get that pre-approved.”

“And there is an air versus water. It’s the same drilling method but they’re using air instead of water. Air is on the pre-approved list. It’s not that everything is pre-approved, it’s just the drilling method. There’s many parameters that they have to put in their plan,” she said.

“If we were in the Mississippi region we would have numerous bidders and it wouldn’t be an issue because this happens all the time. But we’re on the East Coast where not a lot of this occurs,” she added.

The bottom line is the funding continues to be secured to correct the identified deficiencies and the county is working with the Army Corps of Engineers — getting it involved further in the bidding process.

“We want to work with the construction companies which are interested in bidding to make sure their concerns are addressed. Information and clarification will be provided in preparation of the bidding package on how to drill the well, what type of drilling method is needed and engineering requirements,” she said.


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