MOUNT CARMEL - The Shamokin Creek Flood Control Project has been delayed several weeks due to the discovery of "weathered fuel oil" from a bygone gas company.

John Bucanelli, project engineer for the $14 million project, said a crew discovered the substance along Water Street, just west of Vine Street, three weeks ago as they prepared the land for a concrete channel.

Don E. Bower Inc., the primary contractor, was forced to move the construction area slightly upstream, to an area just east of Vine Street. The change meant moving temporary dams, pumps, large pipes and heavy machinery. The crew is currently moving utilities and preparing the area for the channel as the oil is removed.

Bucanelli said the oil has been in the ground for quite some time; however, UGI, which has a pipeline and property in the vicinity, took the initiative to address it.

"UGI stepped up and took responsibility; however, there is no negligence on their part," Bucanelli said. "They already hired a team to clean it up."

Although the discovery set the project back a few

steps, Bucanelli said snags in projects of this magnitude often occur and can't be predicted.

The project includes building on-site or installing pre-cast channel walls for nearly a mile, building new bridges at North Walnut and North Chestnut streets, and constructing an open pool and levy system that will break the flow of the water near the Silver Bowl stadium at the west end of the borough. The targeted completion date is Feb. 29, 2016.

"We have been delayed a little bit, but progress is not far off track," Bucanelli said. "Right now, the contractor has completed the lower end, near the stadium."

Will lower insurance

The new channel is intended to increase water capacity, which should keep nearly 100 houses along Water Street and surrounding streets safe from flooding. Former state Rep. Bob Belfanti and borough council pushed for funding for years. Their efforts came to fruition with a groundbreaking April 12, 2013.

Along with preventing flooding, Bucanelli said the new channel will redefine the flood zone, which is anticipated to lower - or eliminate altogether - flood insurance costs for area property owners.

According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps, most homes in the north end of Mount Carmel are in a flood zone. Flood insurance rates are based upon where a base flood elevation is located in a flood zone. The elevation is determined by flood insurance rate maps prepared by FEMA.

"If you are 18 inches above the elevation, you can get flood insurance for a couple hundred dollars a year," Bucanelli said. "Insurance rates go up astronomically if you are below base flood elevation."

A homeowner can be charged as much as $1,000 per year for every foot their home is below the flood base elevation, meaning a home that is eight feet below elevation could be charged $8,000.

"None of those homeowners (living along Shamokin Creek) would be able to sell their properties because the flood insurance would cost more than the house. It could wipe out a significant portion of the tax base," Bucanelli said. "The key is how the project is going to save a big portion of the borough."

Bucanelli said the area will be reassessed by FEMA when the project is completed.