WILKES-BARRE — In their continuing quest for money to complete the Solomon Creek wall reconstruction project, state lawmakers Tuesday said they located another $2.3 million to move the funding past the halfway point.
The Community Development Block Grant program combined with past awards and a city bond issue increased the overall funds to $8.7 million for the flood protection project estimated to cost $15 million.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George, state Sen. John Yudichak and state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, who have worked on the funding, gathered with others along the wall at Waller Street residence to announce the latest addition.
“I made a pledge when I ran for mayor that I’d fix the Solomon Creek wall,” said George, who took office in January 2016.
He, along with the legislators, met with Gov. Tom Wolf several times, and the Disaster Recovery Fund award coming the city’s way is the result, George said.
The mayor, a Democrat, showered praise on his fellow party members Yudichak, Pashinski and Wolf, for their support of the infrastructure project especially when the city is struggling financially.
“I could never do this by myself,” said George, who added U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, to his thank-you list.
George’s administration and those before him have been searching for government assistance to rebuild the wall that was constructed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The stone and concrete channel wall has noticeable gaps in the mortar, and where it has pulled away from Brook Street, it leans toward the creek. A temporary patch was made on a section of the wall collapsed into the creek bed approximately a year ago.
The state has helped with piecemeal funding after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined the cost of the comprehensive fix sought by the city outweighed the flood protection benefits it would provide. Fearing a catastrophe with a prolonged wait for aid, the city in May approved a bond deal to improve cash flow to pay its bills and earmark $4.4 million to rebuild a limited section of the wall.
The additional state aid will cover the reconstruction of retaining walls and improvements to pump stations along a two-block section from Waller and Regent streets and another 90 feet toward South Franklin Street.
The project is in the final stage of engineering and will be ready to bid in April 2018. Construction should begin in May and last eight months, according to Joyce Morrash Zaykowski, capital projects program manager for the city.
“This was all hands on deck,” said Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre of the group effort and commitment to locate money to pay for the project.
“We looked in every nook and cranny in order to find it,” said Pashinski.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, made a point to add Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, the state agency that administers the funding, to the long list of people to thank.
“Combined we now have $8 million on hand which gets us over 50 percent of the entire project. The entire project is $15 million,” Yudichak said.
Including the latest grant, the state has contributed $4.6 million to the project:
• $1.4 million in Local Share Account funds from gambling revenues from the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township.
• $499,999 in Act 13 or impact fee funds from the Marcellus Shale development.
• $200,000 in Storm Water & Sewer funding from DCED
• $125,000 in emergency funding.
Not included in this phase is a new bridge at Division Street.
“That’s something that we’re working on actually with the county, Luzerne County,” Yudichak said.
The mayor predicted they would return to announce further funding to get closer to the $15 million mark. “We’ll be back,” he said.
Casey’s office issued a statement, saying he has asked for federal money for the project. “While this funding is welcome news, the administration needs to do more and make sure that residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and specifically those near Solomon Creek, have basic protection from dangerous storms which cause flooding,” Casey said.