Ice wrecks Armstrong homes along Allegheny River, prompting review
Mild temperatures that followed last week's arctic blast loosened Allegheny River ice floes that floated with floodwater onto land, damaging property and making driving impossible on parts of Rimer Road in Madison Township.
Enormous chunks of ice and rising water blocked the road and stranded families, who couldn't leave their homes before barriers meant to stop cars from driving on a recreational bike and walking trail nearby were removed by a property owner with a backhoe.
The hours it took to remove the barriers delayed emergency crews from reaching property owners, prompting some to wonder whether their safety was secondary to concerns about Armstrong County's Rails to Trails corridor.
“I was surrounded on all four sides, and the only way out was through the trail,” said homeowner John Drayer. “It was impossible to get people out.”
His home sits on a higher elevation along the river, but between early Sunday and 11 a.m. that day, water had risen to cover all 13 steps leading to his home. Ice had torn away a deck on his house.
Rimer Road remained closed on Tuesday as township workers used heavy equipment to move the ice and debris. A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh warned boaters to use caution on the river, especially above Lock and Dam 9.
“It looks like an iceberg is sticking out of the river,” Rimer Road resident Glenn Dukovich said. “The ice pushed trailer camps around like tin boxes.”
Darl Emings is co-owner of a camp in Rimer near Lock 9.
About 1 p.m. Sunday, 4 feet of water poured through his stone structure, toppling a refrigerator and tipping over a bar. He was able to salvage some items, but several pieces of furniture and other items were beyond saving.
Insurance coverage is poor and doesn't cover the extent of damage, he said.
“Another month or two — maybe three — we'll get it fixed up,” Emings said.
Property damage aside, the residents pondered what kind of danger they might have been in had the flooding been worse. Before the recreational trail was built, the former train track would have been the first option for escaping the approaching water, Dukovich said.
There are about 14 families who live along that stretch of the river on the road that is also known as State Route 1004, he said. While Dukovich's property was not affected by the ice and flood debris, he said he was concerned about safety issues that could have arisen with the trail being blocked.
Residents contacted Ron Steffey, executive director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust — which maintains Rails to Trails — by phone on Sunday and were given the go-ahead to move the barriers. The resident with the backhoe moved the concrete barriers before volunteer firefighters arrived.
“We've tried to work with the adjacent landowners to address concerns,” Steffey said on Tuesday.
All barriers have been moved off the trail since the weekend flooding.
“We've opened up the trail from Rimer to Mahoning so emergency responders can travel the trails,” he said.
The Allegheny Valley Land Trust plans to work with Distant and Pine-Templeton fire departments to come up with a contingency plan to prevent emergency access delays in the future, Steffey said.
One possible solution would be installing gates that can be easily opened for emergency access and doing away with the concrete barricades. Steffey invited property owners to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with their concerns and ideas.
“We need to find solutions,” he said.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or email@example.com.