Soaked hillside comes sliding down in East Vandergrift
By Braden Ashe
Published: Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 1:46 a.m.
An East Vandergrift landslide on Thursday presents the borough, and probably neighboring Vandergrift, with an expensive and potentially dangerous repair project.
About 1,800 square feet of hillside collapsed early Thursday morning toward a vacant property in the 700 block of McKinley Avenue.
No one was injured from the slide, which uprooted a large tree, moved a shed several feet and edged a 40-foot drop-off from a path along the Vandergrift-East Vandergrift border.
The hillside is stable and, barring any flash flooding, doesn't pose a threat to nearby residents, according to Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Public Safety Department.
“Right now, it's safe everywhere but at the top of the hill, where the soil is still soft,” he said. “If it continues to rain heavily like (Wednesday) night, then we might have a problem.”
The National Weather Service projects clearing skies through the weekend with a 30 percent chance of rain on Monday.
Dan Waner, who lives next door to the damaged property, said he was unaware of the slide until about 8 a.m. when he notified authorities.
“I couldn't believe it,” he said. “The whole hillside came down from the path. It came about 3 feet from taking out my garage up there.”
Vandergrift Borough dug a drainage ditch along the path several years ago to prevent water runoff from flooding the underlying McKinley Avenue. The ditch is designed to force the water into a drainage pipe that feeds into the Kiski River.
Lucien Bove of Bove Engineering Co. said the tree that fell Thursday was drawing water into the hillside from its roots in the ditch.
“It was oversaturating the soil and rotting the tree's roots,” he said. “It looks like the heavy rain (Wednesday) night was the final straw.”
The tree fell first, taking the hillside with it, according to Bove.
East Vandergrift and Vandergrift officials will consult their solicitors and engineers over the next few days to determine a solution, according Jim Stanczak, East Vandergrift Council president.
Vandergrift Councilman Vernon Sciullo said the project will likely be a joint effort.
The best solution, according to Bove, will be to build a retaining wall about 10 feet from the top of the affected area.
The project would require heavy machinery, which presents a handful of challenges to the boroughs. The path is probably too eroded to support the equipment, said Bove, and there are no clear routes to the work area.
The soft soil along the path also puts workers at risk because the ground, if disturbed, is susceptible to further sliding, he said.
“It's something we're going to have to take a lot more time to think about,” Bove said. “I can't even provide an estimate at this point of what it'll cost. It's not going to be cheap.”
East Vandergrift will apply through the county for emergency management money from the state to support the repairs, Stanczak said.
The borough should be eligible, according to emergency management coordinator Anthony Buyny, because council recently redrafted its emergency mitigation code to comply with county standards.
The money would likely come from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Buyny said the vacant house's basement probably suffered significant flood damage. He plans to rope off the area to prevent anyone from entering the McKinley Avenue house.
The house is owned by the adult children of its late longtime residents. Stanczak called the owners to notify them of the damage. They could not be reached for comment.
The slide, according to Waner next door, pushed piles of debris within a few feet of a waterline that runs between his home and the damaged property.
Tom Ceraso, assistant manager at the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, said the line was not affected by the slide and he doesn't anticipate any problems during the hillside's reconstruction. He didn't readily know how many households the waterline serves.
After the landslide, Waner is “counting his blessings.”
“It could have been a lot worse, and it could have really affected us,” he said. “I'm just thanking God right now that it didn't.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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