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Residents want to know why sewer system didn't hold up

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

They had photos, videos and stomach-turning tales of the rain that left sewage floating in their basements and five feet of water in their driveways that totaled several vehicles.

Whitehall residents attended the July 17 council meeting asking municipal leaders for help, and sought answers for why their sanitary sewer systems did not work during the rainstorms that flooded parts of the South Hills on July 9 and 10.

“This is my second flood in nine years. I'm still paying my FEMA loan from last time,” Doverdell Drive resident Gemma Voelker-Churik said. “I don't know how many times I can do this.”

Whitehall officials received 55 calls from residents related to issues from the July 9 and 10 storms, borough Manager James Leventry said. Some of those included issues with the sanitary sewer systems overflowing, although he could not quantify how many.

“I had water coming up from my sanitary sewers that looked like a geyser,” McKee Drive resident Dominic Evangelista said. “I had toilet paper floating around.”

Whitehall officials are reviewing the concerns on a case-by-case basis, and determining if flooding occurred in concentrated areas where officials might need to address problems, Leventry said.

“We're just going to have to see how each of these shake out,” Leventry said.

After reviewing each incident, borough engineers will come back to council with any recommendations for improvements in the sanitary sewer system, engineer Ruthann Omer said.

In some cases, though, such as the Doverdell Drive/Weyman Road area, the borough already is studying potential improvements in the sanitary sewer system, Omer said. Once the study is complete, a community meeting will be held to discuss the findings, she said.

Residents living in regions that flooded said they're still concerned about how they're going to pay their bills and replace washers, dryers and hot water tanks damaged by the floods.

“Most of us weren't covered with any kind of insurance, because its not a flood area. I didn't know if there was anything that we could do to alleviate that cost, because we're paying taxes and actually not getting our money's worth for that,” said Highgrove Road resident Mark Blahut, who said he has brought his concerns to borough officials before, yet has seen little improvement.

“It's not working for me, and I pay a lot of money toward that,” Blahut said, asking if he could receive a discount on his taxes. “It's all coming out of all of our pockets.”

Whitehall police Chief Donald Dolfi, who serves as the borough's emergency management coordinator, said it is unlikely that residents will get any federal assistance from these storms, as the region likely will not meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's $4.6 million minimum to be declared an emergency area.

Whitehall Mayor James Nowalk declared the borough in a state of emergency during the flooding on July 10.

Highgrove resident Marlene Yannone said she needs to buy another furnace and hot water tank. She said she's taken the borough to court before over flooding on her property, but can't afford to do that again.

The borough, too, has spent a lot of money to handle water issues, Nowalk said. Repairs have been made along Oakridge Drive to reduce flooding, he said.

“I'm thinking about all of the money that we spent,” Nowalk said, but a change may be needed in how the borough handles sewer improvements.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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