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Waterways being skimmed to clear paths for powerboats in regatta

| Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 11:00 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Vendors at Point State Park were busy on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, finalizing preparations for the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, which begins on Wednesday.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Brad Goll of Lago Vista, Texas, photographs the sculpture he made with other Sandsational Sand Sculpting artists for the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. The sculpture, which depicts the defense of Fort McHenry, was made with 160 tons of sand.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Tony Hoard of New Castle, Ind., sets up for his K9 Crew Trick Dog Thrill Show at the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta in Point State Park on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
West View resident Dave Hilke, with Integrated Strategic Marketing USA out of Pittsburgh, sets up fencing in preparation for the opening of the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta at Point State Park on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. The regatta begins on Wednesday.

Heavy rain the past week washed trees and branches into Western Pennsylvania rivers, so workers are skimming the waterways trying to keep them out of the path of powerboats going 130 mph during the 2014 EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta.

“Last year was the worst year for damage to the boats during the race, with busted and bent propellers,” said Michael Dongilli, senior vice-president of ISM-USA, the event's manager. “It's all about driver safety.”

The three-day water festival begins on Wednesday afternoon. The powerboat championships are Friday, and the event concludes that night with fireworks.

The first intercollegiate sailing regatta in Pittsburgh will debut on Thursday.

“There's definitely always the potential for river conditions to affect what we do. We're taking a hard look at the rivers and it looks like the currents have subsided, but the debris is a little more concerning — particularly with the powerboats,” Dongilli said.

Pittsburgh River Rescue will assist with clearing trees, logs and trash — the by-products of flooding, said Richard Linn, river rescue operations chief.

“If it's large enough, we steer it to the side,” Linn said. “The stuff that floats just below the surface can give you trouble.”

Currents are less of a concern, officials said. The National Weather Service in Moon said the Allegheny was the only river flowing noticeably above normal, at 1.2 to 1.4 mph expected through the weekend. The river typically flows about 0.9 mph.

The Monongahela and Ohio rivers were flowing at 0.5 and 0.9 mph, respectively.

“Over the last month, there's been a lot of rain in the Allegheny River Basin in Clarion and Venango counties,” said Joe Palko, a weather service hydrologist. “A flow of over 2 mph would trigger a recreational boater advisory. If you're in a small boat or canoe, 1 mph is pretty strong.”

The current kept Kayak Pittsburgh from renting kayaks at its North Shore location on Tuesday.

“We hope it's not (typical) because, obviously, if we can't operate, it's not good for business,” said Mike Adams, site supervisor.

The weather service said Western Pennsylvania received 4.05 inches of rain in June — slightly more than the average of 3.8 inches. The rain swept sediment into the river, said Werner Loehlein, chief of water management with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Every day it doesn't rain, (the river) clears up. We've had this pattern for eight weeks, where we've had a burst of rain every two to three days,” Loehlein said. “If the debris builds up at the locks and dams, they pass it. Just like with the ice, they fill up the lock with debris and pass it down. Or, they open the gate and pass it.”

Army Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk said the rain and high water shifted warning buoys meant to mark hazardous areas upstream and downstream of dams. The corps is resetting the buoys, but all may not be reset by the weekend, he said.

Vendors began setting up for the regatta despite a predicted chance of rain on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Cecelia Biggerstaff, 61, of Belle Vernon said it was her second year selling old-fashioned soda and ice cream floats.

“We had a fun time here. There was a big crowd. We enjoyed the fireworks; they were gorgeous. The weather is holding out, and it looks like it's going to all weekend,” Biggerstaff said. “We do this as a side business. For us, it's a little additional thing that my husband got interested in.”

Regatta patrons such as Molly Jesso, 39, of Mt. Lebanon said she and her family come every year.

“We like to dip our feet in (at) the Point, and that'll be our big plans for the weekend,” Jesso said. “We don't have a lot of boats or do a lot of boating, but we do a lot of biking and walking as a family.”

Bobby Kerlik and Megan Henney are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Kerlik at 412-320-7886 or and Henney at

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