Last updated: March 16. 2013 7:00PM - 447 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com - (570) 991-6388

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Retired Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority executive director Jim Brozena will be paid $125 per hour for up to $10,000 as a consultant over the next six months, the authority decided Tuesday.

Brozena, who retired Jan. 11, will help train his replacement and help ensure Wyoming Valley Levee operations continue until the new person is hired, authority members said.

Authority board member Douglas Ayers said he's relieved Brozena will be available if the Susquehanna River floods.

All five authority board members next week will interview the three executive director applicants who met minimum qualifications, said authority Chairman Stephen A. Urban.

Among the other topics discussed Tuesday:

• River gauges: County Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons, who is providing assistance to the authority in Brozena's absence, brought up recent news media reports highlighting a lack of reliable funding for Susquehanna River Basin stream gauges that monitor water levels and pollution.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors stream and river heights, installed a new gauge on the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wilkes-Barre in 2011 to measure the river's levels. But Gibbons said the county has an interest in the proper maintenance and updating of upstream gauges because they are critically important to forecast and prepare for flooding here.

The authority agreed to send a letter to federal officials pushing for guaranteed gauge funding in the Susquehanna basin.

• Flood buyouts: The authority is still waiting for millions of dollars in federal funding that was promised years ago for property buyouts as part of the levee-raising project. This buyout funding was designed to compensate some of the Susquehanna River municipalities not protected by the levee, and 300 properties were on the waiting list.

Gibbons said he and authority officials will review the waiting list to remove any buyouts completed through other funding and work with federal officials to secure the money owed.

• Levee repairs: Gibbons said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed 75 percent of levee repairs stemming from damage caused by record Susquehanna River flooding in September 2011.

The Army Corps is expected to spend $2 million to $3 million to repair damaged flood gates, boils and other scars on the 15-mile levee system.

• Susquehanna cleanup: Gibbons said he's been meeting with various agencies to identify potential funding and labor to remove structures and other debris from the river islands and banks – much of it deposited in September 2011.

Gibbons said he's concerned some of this debris will damage the levee if it washes downstream in a future flood.

The authority might consider sponsoring the cleanup with the understanding the funding and labor must be provided by outside entities.

• Levee monitoring: The authority agreed to seek an engineering company to complete a levee survey required every two years to assess any settling of the flood-control structure. Gibbons said no settling has been found to date.

• Hicks Creek: Gibbons suggested the authority schedule a public meeting in about a month to discuss plans to address flooding concerns.

Exeter area residents have been seeking a new pump station that can handle Hicks Creek, though the $10 million to $20 million price tag put the project in limbo. Up to 100 properties have flooded several times over the last decade. Without new pumps, municipal officials must rely on rented portable units when the water rises.

• Authority litigation: The authority directed solicitor Christopher Cullen to complete paperwork amending the authority's articles of incorporation with the state.

An issue with a past amendment prompted the county district attorney to file legal action questioning the eligibility of three citizen members to serve. The authority has filed court paperwork arguing these citizens have the right to remain in their unpaid seats.

• Citizen comment: Kingston resident Brian Shiner suggested Urban reduce the new executive director's salary by 25 percent because Urban recently voted as a council member to lower division head salaries by that amount.

Urban said the council motion did not pass, and he is only one of five votes on the authority. There was no further discussion on the suggestion, which means the authority position will pay at least $70,000.

Shiner also questioned Brozena's ability to be a paid consultant, asking whether it violates the home rule charter or its codes. Cullen said he researched the law and concluded the consulting work is permitted.

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