Hempfield back to drawing board on flood control

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Hempfield supervisors must decide whether they want to redesign a flood-control project in West Point as a result of the state Department of Environmental Protection ordering the township to change the scope of the project, which would increase the cost to more than $2 million, the board chairman said.

Supervisor Doug Weimer said the township believes the issue as a public-safety problem; the state views it as an environmental issue.

“They are asking us to create some habitat areas that were not on our radar,” he said. “The board of supervisors, in the very near future, will have to sit down and decide where we want to go with this project. DEP has definitely changed the project.”

Residents of Newport and Stamford drives have been plagued by flooding from an unnamed stream — a tributary of Township Line Creek — since 2007.

The state agency has refused to issue a permit for the project because of environmental concerns , and a township study that found the stream is inhabited by spineless aquatic life called macroinvertebrates, Weimer said.

Hempfield has spent $200,000 on design, the aquatic life study, obtaining rights of way and the DEP permit process.

The initial cost estimate was $1.8 million, and a new design would cost $24,000, township officials said.

“I think there's going to be some additional costs,” Weimer said.

John Poister, a DEP spokesman in Pittsburgh, said the permit application is under review. The agency issued a technical review in October and is waiting for a formal response from the township.

Initially, Hempfield wanted to install pipes under residents' property to allow water to flow into a retention pond. The DEP wanted the township to develop step pools on each property that would contain the storm water, thereby establishing aquatic habitats. The water would slowly evaporate over time.

Step pools are found naturally in mountain streams, with spacing that leads to a staircase-like appearance along a waterway.

“That ain't going to go,” said Bob Davidson, a Stamford Drive resident and former township supervisor. “All that's going to do is create mosquito nests on hot days.”

Davidson said residents have reviewed property maps, which do not show a creek.

“There is no creek back there,” he said. “The only time there is a creek is during a heavy rain. It's a culvert.”

If there is no creek, he said, the DEP has no standing.

George Haines, who lives on Stamford, said that when he moved into West Point in 1982, the “stream” was a ditch.

“You could step across it,” he said. “Now you can't. I call it a drainage ditch. It's not a stream.”

Haines said he has lost as much as 10 feet of his yard to erosion as a result of flooding.

“The water isn't deep enough for fish,” he said.

Weimer said Hempfield obtained rights of way from property owners based on a presentation that explained a piping system will be installed. Now Hempfield will have to ask whether residents are willing to allow step pools to be developed on their properties, he said.

“This is not what the board anticipated,” Weimer said.

The problem began during a heavy storm in 2007 that caused more than $1 million in flood damage in Hempfield. The township began a series of flood-control projects but encountered problems with the West Point plan.

In 2011, Hempfield applied for a permit, but the DEP said the township needed to conduct a macroinvertebrate study and list the species within Township Line Creek, a subsidiary of Sewickley Creek.

The DEP believes the project will cause environmental harm and destroy the habitat, which outweighs any benefit from the project.

“We can't do any work until we get the permit,” Weimer said.

“We can't get the permit unless we agree to do the work.”

The project encompasses separate areas.

Part of the stream flows between Newport and Waterbury drives. On Stamford Drive, the creek flows behind homes. The township could ask the state to issue separate permits for each area of West Point. said state Sen. Kim Ward, a Hempfield Republican.

“I have been working with Hempfield Township on this issue since May and recently proposed they consider addressing the drainage on Stamford Drive and Newport Drive separately,” she said.

“This approach may be a good mechanism to accommodate some of the regulatory requirements of the DEP while at the same time addressing the erosion issues. We must find a solution to this problem, which has been going on for far too long.”

Home construction in West Point began in the 1950s before storm-water regulations were enacted. Initially, flooding was limited because there were so few homes. As the development grew in size, flooding increased because of man-made storm-water runoff.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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