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Basement flooding problem seems to be worsening in Squirrel Hill

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The afternoon storms that ripped through Western Pennsylvania on Monday flooded basements in the Murray Hill area of Squirrel Hill for a second time since July 4, property owners said.

Jerry Speer, owner of Equity Real Estate on Murray Avenue, said the problem seems to be occurring more and more frequently during particularly heavy rain.

"I've got 2 inches of water right now," Speer said. "The last time soaked our entire lower level, which is all carpeted and finished. I think there's so much water coming down the city sewage lines that there's no more room for our water to get into that line."

Mark Chaouk, owner of Kristopher's Place restaurant, said yesterday marked the fourth time this year he had water in the building. Chaouk said his business will be closed until he can clean and disinfect the place.

"There's like 2, 3 feet of water downstairs," he said. "Every time we get rain more than usual, we get flooded so bad. The odor of it is disgusting."

Melissa Rubin, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, said workers would have to investigate the problem in Squirrel Hill before she could discuss the cause. She said PWSA received a complaint from Equity Real Estate about the July 4 incident and is waiting for Equity to list the specific addresses of buildings where flooding occurred.

"I don't want to speculate on what is causing their basements to flood," Rubin said. "The first thing is they need to call our office and report it. We really have to go out there and see what is happening."

David Tkacik, general property manager for Equity Real Estate, said at least five other buildings in the immediate area regularly experience flooding.

Flash flooding has become a regular occurrence in local urban areas, said John Schombert, executive director of Three Rivers Wet Weather, a nonprofit that works with municipalities to improve sewer systems.

Municipalities across Allegheny County, including Pittsburgh, are working on consent orders from state and federal agencies and the county Health Department to have plans in place and begin sewer system upgrades over the next 14 years. By 2026, he said, communities will not be permitted to have system overflows into businesses and homes.

"I can't say specifically what's going on in Squirrel Hill, but two things can cause the overflow," Schombert said. "One, the system is too small to handle (the rainfall). The second possibility is that there's a big maintenance issue there, that the pipe is full of material and debris, even collapsed."

Omar Higley, owner of the Allegro Hearth Bakery on Murray Avenue, said about a foot of water invaded his basement, which is used for storage. He has everything stored on racks about 3 feet off the floor because of past flooding.

"It only happens when we have these really bad flash storms," he said. "I think it just overwhelms the sewer system for a few minutes. Hopefully, we can find a long-term solution for it."

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