Flood-prone towns in Chartiers Creek area ask feds to help

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Sick of being soaked, at least 10 communities in the Chartiers Creek Watershed are nudging federal officials to keep their homes and businesses safe from the flood-prone waterway and its tributaries.

Devastating high water in July was a final straw for Bridgeville, McDonald, Oakdale, Robinson and several other towns where floods have appeared to worsen in the past 20 years, municipal leaders said. They want the Army Corps of Engineers to investigate and design a long-term fix to tame the water — a project that could begin under a U.S. House bill that advanced this week.

Oakdale Council President Ron “Huck” Gamble said the repeated floods are a top concern for his borough, which endured soaking damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and again from heavy storms in July.

“Our businesses got totally wiped out in '04, and reluctantly we got every one of them back,” Gamble said. “We're going to have some empty store space this year if this continues. It's the No. 1 priority.”

A legislative amendment introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, would make sure the Corps of Engineers can pursue strengthening stream banks and other flood prevention improvements along Chartiers Creek tributaries such as Campbells Run, Robinson Run, North Branch and McLaughlin Run. Congress first directed the corps in the 1950s and '60s to build any needed flood-control structures there.

Murphy's amendment reauthorizes flood control for Robinson Run and North Branch near Oakdale, an area that saw $600,000 in damage to 52 homes, 15 businesses and several other properties in July, according to his office. The larger bill carrying the amendment, called the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, passed the House on Wednesday on a 417-3 vote and heads now to the Senate. None of the three “no” votes came from Western Pennsylvania lawmakers.

“The best course of action for these communities and for the taxpayers is to prevent flooding rather than foot the bill for flood cleanup, recovery and rebuilding every time there's a heavy rainstorm in the Char Valley,” Murphy said in a written statement. “We can save taxpayers millions over the long term by working to prevent these floods from destroying local businesses, homes and infrastructure.”

It wasn't clear exactly how the improvements might take shape or what they might cost. The idea is for the corps to investigate how to prevent the floods and develop suggested solutions, said Bridgeville borough Manager Lori Collins.

The approach, Collins said, follows the model of the James G. Fulton Flood Protection Project, a 1970s-era effort that reduced flooding along 11 miles of Chartiers Creek between Bridgeville and Pittsburgh. Communities joined to lobby for those upgrades, which included moving part of the waterway.

The Fulton project is managed now by the Chartiers Valley District Flood Control Authority, which also would maintain any new flood-control structures built by the corps along the tributaries, Collins said.

The corps generally can use up to $100,000 in federal funding for an initial feasibility study, she said, with any excess expenses shouldered by local sponsors.

Representatives from the corps declined to comment on pending legislation.

Other communities in the coalition seeking assistance include North Fayette, South Fayette, Cecil and Midway.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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