Agencies assess flood-ravaged region
By Eric Slagle
Published: Friday, July 19, 2013, 4:06 a.m.
Clint Williams and his family were just about finished cleaning up from the July 10 flooding around their Elizabeth Township home when another round of heavy rains hit the area on Wednesday afternoon.
This time, however, the flooding in their basement and garage and in the creek in their backyard along Boston Hollow Road was a lot worse.
“There was 3 feet of water running across the yard and the parking lot,” Williams said. “It wasn't until the water started to recede that you could see it being sucked down into this hole.”
The hole — roughly 10 feet in diameter and several feet deep — is the result of a ruptured pipe that carries a section of a Boston Hollow Run underground just behind Williams' house. That and many problems caused by that stream and other creeks were examined by a team of local, county, state and federal emergency officials on Thursday.
Their purpose was to determine if the region will qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funding. Allegheny County, where about a dozen communities declared states of emergency last week, would need to reach a threshold of $4.1 million in damages to qualify for federal relief funding, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
The assessment team visited with residents, businesses and officials from Elizabeth Township, Lincoln and Forward Township.
“We're here to get a ballpark estimate,” PEMA's Ken Mostyn said.
Should the region qualify for federal relief funding, he said, additional interviews, assessments and paperwork would be required.
Mostyn advised representatives of the Elizabeth Township Sanitary Authority, who were in the process of digging the authority's Boston pumping station out of the mud, to “keep track of your time and equipment” usage as it pertains to the flooding, because that may help the authority to recover financial losses later.
One point Mostyn and his FEMA counterpart Dave Weakley stressed time and again on Thursday was that their assessment was only for damages that were incurred during the July 10 storms. Separating those damages from the ones wrought by the more recent round of storms was a difficult one.
Residents along Boston Hollow Road said they don't think Wednesday's overflows would have occurred if the creek hadn't been clogged by debris from the flooding a week earlier.
Resident John Mihaljevich said he was able to clean out the stream near his house after the first round of flooding but won't be able to do the job by hand now. A tree and portion of hillside that slipped on Wednesday significantly narrowed the course of the stream by Mihaljevich's house.
The waterway, which was about 12 feet wide, is now only a third of that at the point of the landslide.
“I don't know what the days are going to bring,” Mihaljevich said, noting that he'd never experienced flooding in 33 years at his home.
Buildup of debris and silt is a concern because it can contribute to flooding in heavy rainfalls, but it is not a problem that FEMA funds are designed to alleviate. Weakley said FEMA pays for damaged structures such as bridges and dwellings or roads but not naturally occurring landscape features such as streams.
“We have to consider the condition (of the property) before the event,” Weakley said.
For example, if a road already was in bad condition when flooding occurred, FEMA funds will not be disbursed to rebuild it.
Elizabeth Township board of commissioners president Gene Francesconi told emergency officials the township had just been issued an emergency permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to clean debris from Boston Hollow Run, but he didn't have all of the details.
Emergency officials on the tour said debris may be cleared from creeks by workers on stream banks but state permitting from the DEP is required in order to enter stream beds with heavy equipment.
Francesconi succinctly summed up his township's problems.
“Any road or highway that has a creek was affected,” he said. “No matter what road you go on, you're going to see a problem.”
PennDOT was among the state agencies represented on the tour.
Tim Joyce, from state Sen. James Brewster's office, said getting a declaration of emergency from FEMA for last week's flooding is key to recovering. He said emergency officials may be back next week to assess the damages from Wednesday's storms.
At the onset of the tour, Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson said that even if the county fails to meet the federal threshold for funding on its own, the region may qualify once assessments from neighboring counties are factored in.
At the intersection of Fey and Boston Hollow roads, Bob and George Slagle were working to remove tree branches from a small bridge that crosses Boston Hollow Run when assessors stopped by. Bob Slagle, who lives farther up Fey Road in Lincoln, said the roadway, which was already in bad shape, is in worse condition now.
“We can get up and down it,” he said, “but it's bad.”
Lincoln Councilwoman Tammy Firda stopped by the bridge and said a lot of borough residents are hard hit.
“A lot of our homes were flooded again last night,” she said, estimating at least 50 homes experienced problems. She said the number could be higher because not everyone reports their damages to officials. “They need to let us know.”
Anyone affected by flooding is asked to call their municipal government to report it. Damages will be reported to emergency authorities at the county, state and federal levels.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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