Hicks Creek Natural Stream Channel Design Project
The Hicks Creek watershed includes approximately 3.9 square miles of land, contained within portions of Exeter Borough and Exeter Township, Luzerne County, PA. Hicks Creek and its tributaries include approximately 6.5 miles of stream, joining with the Susquehanna River in Exeter Borough. The Hicks Creek watershed can be divided into two characteristically different sub-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 Schooley Avenue and Searfoss Lane. Steep valley walls characterize the area upstream of Slocum Avenue with a moderately steep valley floor. The stream channel itself drops approximately 800 feet over 2.4 miles above this point. There is a significant portion of Hicks Creek that experiences stream flow loss midway down the Wyoming Valley at a point where previous Anthracite strip mining activities significantly altered the stream since the 1940s and 1950s. The lower portion of the watershed, below Slocum Avenue, where Hicks Creek enters the valley floor, is in striking contrast with the upper sub-watershed. The stream slope is very flat and the channel itself drops only about 60 feet over 2.4 miles before emptying into the Susquehanna River. Nearly 20% of the lower portion of the watershed is developed area.
The area of focus for the proposed Hicks Creek Abandoned Mine Reclamation Stream Channel Restoration Project parallels Schooley Avenue, beginning at a gap in the watershed, along the Hicks Creek main stem. This area is just below a previously constructed Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Stream Channel Stabilization Project, moving South for nearly 3,400 linear feet from the limits of the coal measures in the Northern Anthracite Coal Field to the Exeter Borough Flood Protection Project along Slocum Avenue. The center of the stream channel restoration project is located within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (AMLIS) Problem Area 2166. Contained within the problem area are several abandoned mine land features in need of reclamation that are either listed as Priority 1 or Priority 2. Existing features still remaining to be reclaimed are a steep outcrop and an open mine entry:
Outcrop Area – PA 2166-01; 5.9 acres; Priority 2; Last updated on 3/1/1986 by the Wilkes-Barre Office
Open Mine Entry Point – PA 2166-02; No 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 with the Susquehanna River near Scovell Island. These effects are due to prior mining practices in the Wyoming Valley. This lower portion of the watershed is also extremely flat, with only a 12 foot drop in elevation and a slope of less than .12% over a 1.9 mile span of Hicks Creek, allowing for environmental problems to occur such as erosion and sedimentation, 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 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 in the 1950s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Another channel improvement project was completed by the PA DEP in 1982 and then completed another flood protection project in 2003. The flood protection project 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 to settle and prevent sedimentation conveyance to the downstream portions of Hicks Creek, the installation of gabion baskets and hard-armoring along upstream banks, and a maintenance access ramp to provide access for future sediment removal.