November 10, 2021

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Council has approved a revision to the county flood protection authority’s articles of incorporation that will allow the authority to expand its scope

Council’s approval on Tuesday paves the way for the flood authority to someday take over maintenance of Duryea’s flood control system.

The authority maintains the Wyoming Valley flood protection system along the Susquehanna River, which protects portions of 12 municipalities in a designated floodplain.

Property owners in the floodplain pay a levee protection fee that is the authority’s sole source of revenue to maintain the flood control system.

Prior to Tuesday, the authority could help municipalities outside the floodplain with flood mitigation measures — paid for through a dedicated mitigation fund — but it could not perform maintenance tasks.

Earlier this year, Duryea officials approached the authority to help bring the borough’s levee system along the Lackawanna River into compliance with federal standards. The borough proposed to pay the authority to maintain Duryea’s levee system once it is upgraded.

The revised articles of incorporation permit the authority to “undertake any/all flood protection actions (it) deems necessary and financially feasible to protect the residents of Luzerne County as a whole.”

When the revision was proposed months ago, council Chairman Tim McGinley said he wanted to make sure that levee fee revenue could not be used to pay for projects outside the floodplain.

On Tuesday, authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman said the levee fee may only be used to pay for maintaining the flood control system along the Susquehanna.

“The statute is very clear,” Belleman said. “We need to keep the funds separate.”

Council approved the revision along with an amendment from Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck that eliminated language noting the authority is empowered by the state Municipality Authorities Act.

That language is redundant, since the authority must comply with that act whether or not its articles of incorporation are revised, Houck said.

Councilman Harry Haas said he preferred not to change the wording.

“We live in strange times,” Haas said. “The concern is … the folks paying the levee fee. You almost have to be redundant in this day and age.”

Councilman Walter Griffith said he wants to make sure Duryea has a dedicated funding source to pay the authority to maintain the borough’s levee system.

Council approved Houck’s proposed amendment 6-5. Kendra Radle, Matthew Vough, LeeAnn McDemott, Stephen J. Urban, Chris Perry and Houck voted yes.

Haas, Griffith, McGinley, Robert Schnee and Sheila Saidman voted no.

Council then voted 7-4 to approve the revision to the articles of incorporation, with McGinley, Urban, Griffith and Haas opposed.