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Wolf appeals federal disaster relief denial

Deb Erdley
| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 4:06 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (left), listens as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald explains the damage to the hillside, during his visit to the landslide that collapsed Route 30, in East Pittsburgh, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (left), listens as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald explains the damage to the hillside, during his visit to the landslide that collapsed Route 30, in East Pittsburgh, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday vowed to appeal the federal government’s denial of a disaster declaration he sought to help communities — including in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties — hit by devastating floods and landslides that afflicted the region through late winter and spring.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the federal government chose to ignore the string of severe storms across much of Western Pennsylvania, the severity and magnitude of which stretched our commonwealth resources well beyond their limits, causing stress on local budgets, too,” Wolf said.

He requested $22 million in federal disaster aid from the Trump administration in response to pleas from officials in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties struggling to pay for infrastructure damage triggered by record amounts of rain.

According to the National Weather Service, the Pittsburgh region saw 16.18 inches of rain and snow between February and April. The normal for that period is 8.87 inches.

Westmoreland officials sent documentation from geologists about Western Pennsylvania’s ground composition and the National Weather Service showing that excessive snow and rain from a weather pattern that spanned more than two months triggered problems including landslides, road damage and flash flooding. Communities affected included North and South Huntingdon, Upper Burrell and Rostraver townships as well as Jeannette in Westmoreland County.

In Allegheny County officials counted 30 communitiessustaining weather-related damage during that period, including Pittsburgh, Harmar, Monroeville, Penn Hills, Wilkins and Forest Hills.

Wolf said FEMA rejected his contention that the damage was the result of a continued weather pattern.

“FEMA chose to look at this continuous string of severe weather as separate incidents, none of which it reported met the threshold for a declaration, but the agency ignored the fact that these weather events were relentless, with damage and costs escalating with each subsequent storm, the total of which devastated much of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties,” Wolf said.

The Trump administration previously rejected a plea for disaster aid after a crippling two-day March snowstorm hit northeastern Pennsylvania in March 2017.

A major disaster declaration from FEMA could provide federal funding to local, county and state governments, as well as certain eligible non-profits to reimburse up to 75 percent of the cost of infrastructure repairs and associated damage costs incurred due to the severe weather

Westmoreland County Public Safety director Bud Mertz is among those pulling for Wolf’s appeal to succeed.

“It is a disaster to us and to our local municipalities trying to figure out how they’re going to go to go above and beyond their budgets to get these roadways repaired,” Mertz said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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