MOUNT CARMEL - Emily Homanick won't be removing the sandbags from the front of her house any time soon, despite the groundbreaking ceremony for the Shamokin Creek Flood Control Project held Friday morning.

It will be three years until the project is complete, and Homanick, of 319 E. Water St., is no stranger to invading water - property in her basement has been damaged or destroyed by nine floods in 22 years.

"I can't wait to move these sandbags away from my house," she said.

"That's what I've been praying for," Homanick said, emotion rising in her voice.

Her words came only moments after she was invited to grab a silver shovel and participate in excavating one of the first 10 scoops of dirt to indicate the beginning of the $14 million project 30 years in the making.

"I can't express it. I feel so good. I could sit here and cry," Homanick said.

The project will keep nearly 100 homes along Water Street and surrounding streets safe from flooding.

Before the groundbreaking, state and local officials made a few comments and confirmed the project is indeed finally starting.

"You can believe that it's going to happen," state Sen. John R. Gordner (R-27) said to a round of applause beneath a canopy set up on a bridge over the Shamokin Creek. "I've talked to folks this morning with tears in their eyes and excitement in their voice, they have known for 30 years this needed to be done and they never thought they would get to this day. But we are here at this day, and it is going to happen."

James Henning, deputy secretary of the Department of General Services - the agency in charge of the overall project - had similar words.

"This is going forward. It's official. There is no doubt," he said.

Gordner and Henning's words were spoken to a handful of residents representing nearly 100 families who live along Water Street and surrounding streets who have been subjected to flooding numerous times from the small borough creek.

The mayor of Mount Carmel offered an apology to the residents.

"We are sorry we couldn't do more than this before. We hope you accept our apology for making you wait this long," said J. Kevin Jones.

Roadblocks

While there is a lot of debris blocking the creek, there is even more blockage in government, Jones said.

Gordner said the project is the result of a collaboration of various government officials and agencies, and he especially praised Mount Carmel for acquiring rights to land around the creek, consolidating deeds and signing them over to the DGS.

State Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) said this day wouldn't have happened without "all the pieces" made up of the people involved in the project falling into place.

"I'll be more thrilled when you (the residents) can lay your head down at night and rest easy. That's the true happy day," he said.

Gordner and Masser were instrumental in obtaining the final state funding for the project last year, and both noted it involved state, county and local funding.

Much of the credit belongs to then-state Rep. Robert E. Belfanti (R-107), who originally spearheaded the project in 1996, Masser said.

Belfanti, who also offered comments at the ceremony, said he fought for funding for the project in many state budgets throughout the years.

"From my standpoint, it is a tragedy and love story," he said, noting he courted his wife, Cecelia, who lived along Water Street.

Many of the government officials who have previously worked on the project and many of the residents who used to live along the creek have passed on, he said.

"A lot of people did a lot of work. Too many people are not around for this," he said.

Peter Zug, executive director of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services in the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Northumberland County Commissioner Richard Shoch and Bill Seigel, program chief for community development at SEDA-COG, also spoke.

After the speeches, Homanick addressed the speakers.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she exclaimed.

In addition to Homanick, those who participated in the groundbreaking were Gordner, Masser, Zug, Shoch, Henning, Belfanti, Jones, Don E. Bower, president of Don E. Bower Inc. and David R. Grey, project coordinator of community development with SEDA-COG.

Borough officials present at the ceremony included Councilman Joseph Lapotsky, Gary Hixson Jr., Robert Barrett, Leroy "Chico" Moser, Robert Shirmer and Clem Plisiewicz.

What's next?

A pre-job conference with the main contractor, Don E. Bower Inc., Berwick, will be scheduled, and construction should begin before the end of April, officials said.

Shamokin Creek is fed by two smaller streams that connect underneath North Pine Street near Francis Latovich Machine Shop. The water flows underground for three blocks until North Locust and East Water streets, which is where construction of new walls and fences will begin. Work will follow the creek for a mile to the Mount Carmel Township and borough line.

New bridges will replace existing ones at North Walnut and North Chestnut streets, but existing bridges crossing North Hickory and North Vine streets will remain.

On the Reading Anthracite property behind the Mount Carmel Area Silver Bowl and Stadium Car Wash at West Third Street, an open pool and levy system will be constructed with pillars to break the flow of the water.