A dedication was held on Oct. 11 for the almost $30 million
Columbia County Flood Risk Management project that protects about 700 jobs in Columbia County. The public and media were invited.
With around 700 employees, Autoneum North America, Inc. is one of the largest private employers in Columbia County.
Autoneum is the global technology leader in acoustic and thermal management solutions for motor vehicles. The company is a partner for the major light vehicle and heavy truck manufacturers around the world. Autoneum provides innovative and cost effective solutions for noise reduction and thermal management to increase vehicle comfort and value.
The Bloomsburg facility manufactures floor systems and auxiliary mats for the original equipment North American automotive industry.
On behalf of the employees of Autoneum, Jim Nemeth, human resources director, expressed gratitude for the flood wall's importance.
"The flood wall project is vital to the long-term viability of the Bloomsburg operation. It will ensure that we are able to meet the demands of our customers in providing an uninterrupted supply of product and survive in the highly competitive global automotive industry," Nemeth said. "The economic impact of the plant to the Bloomsburg community and region is substantial and the flood wall will assist in maintaining our presence and contribution to the local economy."
The Columbia County commissioners recognized that Autoneum is a critical economic engine for the county. When the commissioners saw that Autoneum and its jobs were in jeopardy because of the flood risk, the commissioners advocated to state and federal lawmakers for funding to build the flood wall.
"Flood protection seemed an impossible dream. Here we are today - a dream becoming reality," Commissioner Chris Young said.
The project received the largest grant in the history of the Philadelphia Regional Office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) at $15 million, which was supported by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). The state's H2O PA program granted about $11.8 million for the project with the assistance of state Sen. John R. Gordner (R-27) and state Rep. David Millard (R-109). Autoneum provided $2 million.
SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) prepared the EDA grant application for funds and administered the project on behalf of the Columbia County commissioners. The project officially began on Feb. 19, 2015, and a groundbreaking was held on April 8, 2015.
"It has been immensely rewarding to participate with this entire project team in fulfilling the vision of the Columbia County commissioners," said Bill Seigel, chief of SEDA-COG's Community Development Program. "A lot of workers can sleep more soundly tonight, knowing that their jobs are not threatened with every rainstorm."
The flood wall is the largest public works project in the county. It is about 1 mile long and up to 16 feet high. The height is 1.5 feet above the highest flood on record, Tropical Storm Lee of 2011. That storm cost Autoneum's Bloomsburg facility over $60 million in damages.
The system consists of three types of flood protection. H-piles with pre-cast concrete panels inserted are used along Fifth, Magee, and Sixth streets with openings in the wall and closures for high water situations. Mechanically stabilized earthen leveeshave been constructed along Schley and West 11th streets, along with conventional earthen levees. There are eight closure structures in the system.
A pump station for storm water was built along Snyder's Run near Autoneum. Three pump stations for sanitary sewage also were built on Scott and West 11th streets.
The flood wall also protects the former Windsor Foods site. While it is currently vacant, it is being actively marketed, and the building is now protected to maintain its potential for reuse, industrial development and local employment.
The SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (JRA) also partnered with the county commissioners on the project by doing railroad work to accommodate the flood wall's closure structure. This included a new concrete base, track and turnout (which switches trains to adjoining tracks) that were moved and built to the west of its prior location. Storage tracks also were built inside the wall to allow rail cars to be safely stored for use by Autoneum during floods. The county invested $57,500 into this piece of the project, and the JRA paid $190,000.
The overall project has had a positive impact on the local economy by working with area suppliers and subcontractors as much as possible. The Howard Organization of Bloomsburg did the electrical work and Allan A. Myers LP of Worcester did the construction, using numerous local suppliers and subcontractors.
- Since the record flood of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, Bloomsburg has been flooded on the average of every five years.
- Between 1901 and 1996, Bloomsburg has been flooded 30 times, averaging about 5 feet above flood stage.
- Floods are expensive. The 1972 flood resulted in almost $18 million in damages in Bloomsburg, which equals $61 million in today's dollars. Damages resulting from the 1996 flood totaled $6.7 million in Bloomsburg and $1.9 million in Hemlock Township.
- The flood wall is 4.5 feet above the 100-year flood height noted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is 1.5 feet above the Tropical Storm Lee flood level.
- During Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, the former Windsor Foods had over 6 feet of water in the plant, over 13 feet in the warehouse, and sustained over $7 million in flood damages. Autoneum's Bloomsburg facility sustained over $60 million in damages.
- More than 10 inches of rain fell during Tropical Storm Lee, and the Susquehanna River crested at a record 32.7 feet.
- Nearly 1/3 of the land area of the Town of Bloomsburg was under water as a result of the heavy rainfall. Within days of flooding, Columbia County was declared a disaster area.
The Columbia County Commissioners have designated SEDA-COG to act as their liaison with local residents who have project-related issues or concerns. For more information, contact Glenda Ruch at 1-800-332-6701. Click HERE for an email form for comments and questions.