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West Newton begins quest for free gauge money

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Much like Lois Van Kirk, West Newton council is in favor of a river gauge to measure the water levels near the bridge, but with a dollar-sign caveat.

Van Kirk, the only resident at a public work session to discuss the project, said she wants the borough to protect residents while spending money in a responsible way.

“As a taxpayer, of course, that's an issue, too,” she said. “It sounds like there's some work for them to do.”

Clinton Hittle of the U.S. Geological Survey gave a presentation to council with representatives from West Newton Emergency Management Agency and Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

The gauge, similar to one in place just downriver at Sutersville, calculates the change in water pressure to measure water level. It would electronically send data to USGS, which could track the changes in depth and predict flooding, and replace a staff in the water that needs to be read manually and is in danger of being damaged by river debris.

“The fact that this staff gauge has lasted as long as it has is great,” he said, as the pole has stood in the water outside TLC Adult Care Center for 40 years.

A draft work agreement puts the project at $24,540, including installation and equipment costs, but state agencies will cover about $12,000 for the equipment, Hittle said.

Annual maintenance costs were estimated between $7,190 and $7,850 for the next five years, which the borough or emergency management would be responsible for unless a funding agency or private organization shows interest in the project, Hittle said.

Councilman Adam Paterline said he was skeptical of committing to a project with borough funds.

“If we can find funding for it, I'm 100 percent in favor of it, but $25,000 is a policeman,” he said after the meeting.

Dan Stevens, public information officer with the county's public safety department, said grant money from a federal hazard mitigation program could be requested for the gauge.

An application with a description of the project will be sent to the program in hopes of funding.

“I think we're at a good starting place,” Stevens said, praising West Newton EMA Director Paul Williams for his work in launching the project.

A form for those funds will detail the project and be sent to the program, which is doling out funds for emergency preparedness in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in October.

Stevens said flooding is a problem throughout the county and is difficult to predict.

“I'd love to see (the river gauge) happen because I know what we're up against in the rest of the county,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at sfederoff@tribweb.com or 724-836-6660.

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