Hicks Creek Natural Stream Channel Design Project
The Hicks Creek watershed includes approximately 3.9 square miles of land contained within portion of Exeter Borough and Exeter Township in Luzerne County’s Ridge and Valley physiographic province. Hicks Creek and its tributaries include an estimated 6.5 miles of streams, before joining with the Susquehanna River in the Borough of Exeter. The Hicks Creek watershed can easily be divided into essentially two characteristically different watersheds. The upper portion of the watershed, upstream of Slocum Avenue, in Exeter Borough, remains mostly undisturbed and nearly 60% is wooded. The area is largely undeveloped with single-family residential development sporadically occurring along the main thoroughfares of Schooley Avenue and Searfoss Lane. Steep valley walls characterize the area upstream of Slocum Avenue with a moderate to steep valley floor. The stream channel itself drops approximately 800’ over 2.4 miles above this point. There is a significant portion of the Hicks Creek that experiences stream flow loss midway down the Wyoming Valley at a point where previous anthracite strip mining activities has occurred and where significant alterations to the stream have occurred since the 1940s and 1950s. The watershed portion below Slocum Avenue where Hicks Creek enters the valley floor, is in striking contrast where the stream slope is very flat and the channel itself drops only around 60’ over a 2.4 mile reach before emptying into the Susquehanna River. Nearly 20% of the lower portion of the watershed are developing areas.
The area of our focus for this proposed Hicks Creek Abandoned Mine Reclamation Stream Channel Restoration Project parallels Schooley Avenue beginning at a point in a gap in the watershed, along its main stem, just below a previously constructed PA Department of Transportation Stream Channel Stabilization Project, in a southerly direction for nearly 3400 linear feet from the limits of the Coal Measures in the Northern Anthracite Coal Fields to the location of the Exeter Borough Flood Protection Project along Slocum Avenue. The center of the location for the stream channel restoration project is located within the PA Department of Abandoned Mine Reclamation’s Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (AMLIS) Problem Area 2166. Contained within the PA2166 are several abandoned mine land features that are either listed as Priority 1 or Priority 2 Features in need of reclamation. Existing features that are still remaining to be reclaimed are subsidence openings, crop falls, and an open mine shaft or mine entry. Crop Fall Area – PA2166-01, 5.9 Acres, OSM Priority 2, Last updated 3/1/1986 W-B Office. Open Mine Entry Point – PA2166-02, no OSM Priority. Comments say it was a slope entry used by mules to pull coal out of the Exeter Mine.
While not the focus of this project, below Slocum Avenue, Hicks Creek has been significantly affected by development and stream realignments. Channelization and stream relocation affects most of the 2.4 miles of stream until it reaches its confluence near Scovell Island due to prior mining practices in the Wyoming Valley. This lower portion of the watershed is also extremely flat in topographic relief, with only a twelve foot (12’) drop in elevation over a 1.9 mile span of the Hicks Creek, which is less than a .12% slope, allowing for other environmental problems to occur such as erosion and sedimentation, stream bank erosion, flooding, and ponding of water leading to health-related concerns such as West Nile Virus. Flood control projects have also significantly altered the natural stream flow of the Hicks Creek.
To protect Exeter Township and Exeter Borough from rising flood waters of the Susquehanna River, a levee was erected at the mouth of Hicks Creek during the 1950s by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to provide flood protection to the residents of the Wyoming Valley. Another channel improvement project was competed by the PA DER in 1982. Yet the PA DEP completed another flood protection project in 2003, which included the construction of a debris basin just upstream of Slocum Avenue, channel improvements between Slocum Avenue and Sturmer Street, the construction of a widened channel cross-section, deepening of a settling basin for the fine sediment particles to settle and prevent siltation from being conveyed to the downstream portions of Hicks Creek, some minor upstream work such as gabion baskets and hard armoring along sections of stream banks and a maintenance access ramp to provide access for future sediment removal.