The flood levee stretching through Hawley Borough took up much of the discussion at the August 9th Council meeting.

HAWLEY - The flood levee stretching through Hawley Borough took up much of the discussion at the August 9th Council meeting. While Council officials are working towards crucial levee repairs, two residents of Falls Avenue questioned a vague “violation notice” they received concerning the levee potion in their backyard.

Ann and Dean Johnson said they received a letter from the borough solicitor- which Mr. Johnson said had a “threatening” tone - which speaks of an unspecified encroachment on the levee’s right-of-way. Ms. Johnson stated that she had researched the deed in the courthouse, and in three different offices could not find a reference to the right-of-way.
Alternate Solicitor Christopher Weed stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the earthen levee, maintains a 15 foot right-of-way from the toe, where the slope meets the level ground.

An issue arises when items are put within that strip, that could impede the flow of water or be in the way in the event an emergency repair was needed. Borough President Ann Monaghan noted that the Army Corps does annual inspections, and holds the borough responsible. The borough, she said, is preparing to do a major repair to the levee, which was based on a failed inspection.

“We have to be very careful with the Army Corps of not doing any violations along the line either, so if they are telling us this area is within violation,” Monaghan stated, “we need to address it to avoid any further issues until we can get the levee repaired and do what we need to do at the borough.”

The Johnsons asked to know more specifically, in what way are they in any violation. Although they put “tons of dirt” on the land, Weed said they even if the toe changed, the right-of-way still exists. Mr. Johnson said there is a lot of stuff to move along the levee, on other properties.

Weed said he would talk to the solicitor (attorney Robert Bernathy) and do further research. He asked if he determined where the line is, and found things needed to be moved, would the Johnsons be willing to do so. Mr. Johnson agreed.

Councilwoman Michelle Rojas, who has spearheaded the process of applying for grant funds to pay for the levee repairs, explained that if there were violations, the borough risks being put on “inactive status”. That means if there were a catastrophe, the borough would not be eligible for federal aid. Also, federally backed mortgage holders would be subject to having to purchase flood insurance- which could be quite costly. This would include residents who are now within the “protected area” of the levee, or about 12% of the borough population.
Mr. Johnson said he understands that, but they need to be told more specifically than just saying, “you’re in violation.”

Other areas of the flood levee the borough must address, Rojas said, includes the repairing a bridge on the levee near Paupack Fuel, and clearing vegetation. A checklist was given the borough following the inspection, but the full report has not yet been received.

Dog park fence

On a related matter, Council received a letter from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stating that the request to place a chain link fence on the flood plain for a proposed dog park, was approved. This is on the condition that if the borough ever needed to move the fence, this would not be at the expense of the DEP. A local resident, Heather Genzlinger, has proposed creating an area for people to let their dogs run free, within an enclosed area. The area is next to the Glass Row ball field.

Levee repairs

Bids to repair the levee, will be revisited at the September 13th Council meeting. They are opened in July, but the low bid far exceeded the grant funding that has been secured so far. Lou Cozza, representing Kiley Associates, the borough’s engineering firm, revised the specifications to obtain costs to replace three of the major culvert pipes rather than five at this time. Seven alternate bids are also requested, and an eighth bid to do the entire project. The project was broken down among the several defective culvert pipes that run through the base of the levee. Using flaps these pipes are designed to keep rising river water from flooding the town, and to allow torrential storm water a way to escape to the river. The pipes date from the construction of the levee in the early 1960’s.

Meanwhile, Rojas has done extensive research for firms that are qualified to certify Hawley’s levee system. She reiterated that since Hurricane Katrina in 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deemed all communities with levees, as if they had no levee, to treat them as flood zones. Federal legislators intervened to require that communities have an opportunity to show that their levee is worthy and can be certified.  
She narrowed down the proposals she received to two firms, and asked if the Council would take action on it.

The rest of Council, however, agreed that more time was needed to review the firms and their proposals. Cozza offered that Kiley Associates would examine them and report back. A workshop/ special meeting was set for August 24 at 6:30 p.m., to discuss the matter further and vote.

Hawley Council normally meets on the second Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall.