WILKES-BARRE — A day before bids are to be opened for the Solomon Creek wall reconstruction, state officials Thursday delivered an additional $1.4 million for the infrastructure project to push the available funding over the $10 million mark.
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, who traveled from Harrisburg to announce the funding, said it brings the state’s contribution to more than $6 million.
But more importantly, the funding in the form of a disaster recovery grant from the Community Development Block Grant program delivers on a promise made long ago to residents that the wall would be rebuilt, Davin said.
“The residents of more than 700 homes who live nearby in this neighborhood are one step closer to the security they deserve and soon they will no longer have to race to watch the water level every time it rains,” Davin said.
The Depression-era wall has deteriorated from high-water events and a 40-foot section collapsed into the creek bed in December 2016, increasing the urgency for the reconstruction that already was a priority for Mayor Tony George.
State Sen. John Yudichak joined Davin, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, other state and city officials and representatives of federal lawmakers on the Barney Street bridge to toss shovels of dirt for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, who’s pushed for state funding, took up Davin’s comment about past promises. The project “has eluded a lot of elected officials over the years, a lot of administrations both in Harrisburg and here in Wilkes-Barre.”
For a long time, the city pursued federal funding for the project, Yudichak pointed out.
“Those big checks aren’t coming anymore, so the state had to get creative, the city had to get creative,” said Yudichak.
The senator added that Gov. Tom Wolf and Davin “bought in” to the idea to cobble together funds from various sources.
Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, credited the funding to a collective effort.
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls we had, how many meetings we had in order to try to pull everybody together. And everybody was willing to do that because they know how important it is,” Pashinski said.
The mayor said he was not certain if the added state funds would expand the scope of the project. The city will open bids publicly Friday at City Hall.
“We’re going to play it by ear. We’re going to do as much as we can,” George said. “With that new technique it’s like a cantilever wall, so we might be able to get a little more than we thought.”
George joked that resident Richard Williams has been harassing him about rebuilding the wall built in 1936.
Williams, 85, of Waller Street, said all he did was speak up. “How’re they gonna know. I wrote letters to Washington way back, years back,” Williams said.
The city committed $4 million through a bond refinancing deal in 2017 and that will pay for a pump station potentially sited between Vulcan and Waller streets.
Joyce Zaykowski, the city’s director of the Office of Community Development and capital projects program manager, said the pump station design isn’t completed. Its role in the project is to pump water back into the creek when the 42-inch stormwater mains close due to high water in the creek.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.