‘We want to know, what are you doing?’: Eastwick residents question officials on proposed levee

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Residents of Philadelphia’s most flood-prone neighborhood learned more about a proposal to build a 15-foot high levee near their homes during a public meeting in Eastwick Wednesday.

Some left feeling that not all their questions had been answered.

“I would be in favor of the levee … if in fact it’s going to make a difference and not just to put us off and appease us,” said Denise Statham, a retired pastor and hospital chaplain whose Eastwick home has flooded multiple times. “I want to see some information on how it’s really going to help us in this situation.”

Late this summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a long-awaited study of potential solutions to Eastwick’s chronic flooding. It recommended a 1400-foot-long levee, looking like an earthen berm, be built along Cobbs Creek behind a row of flood-prone homes.

The agency’s analysis found that such a levee could prevent on average over $4 million in flood damage to homes and infrastructure per year, from 2030 to 2080.

It would not be the first levee in the area. There are 200 existing levee systems in Pennsylvania, many of them decades old.

The levee proposed for Eastwick is designed to handle a 100-year storm without overtopping. That means it would protect against all the floods Eastwick has experienced in recent decades — the biggest being Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and the latest being Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020 — according to the Army Corps’ analysis.

Philadelphians and federal officials discussed the proposal to build a levee in Eastwick at a public meeting Wednesday. (Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

“The levee, as currently designed, would protect against all of these,” Jacob Helminiak, a hydraulic engineer with the Army Corps, told WHYY News.

Officials with the Army Corps, speaking Wednesday to a packed room at the Eastwick recreation center where a quiet sound system made speakers at times hard to hear, addressed concerns that the levee could create more flooding up and downstream.

The agency’s modeling has shown that the levee would reduce water levels during a 100-year storm along the Cobbs Creek near Saturn Place by 6 to 7 feet, while increasing water levels downstream where the Darby Creek crosses 84th Street by over a foot. Helminiak said the levee would not cause any structures to flood that would not flood anyway during a 100-year storm.

“It’s mostly a benefit,” Helminiak said.

Still, the Army Corps hopes that other measures, like dredging the streams or creating new wetlands, could eliminate the so-called “induced flooding.”

  • October 6, 2023
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