Jeannette residents work to recover after heavy rains flooded basements with wastewater
Toni Crawford’s new washer and dryer were destroyed Thursday when 4 feet of sewage and water flowed up through a drain in her West Jeannette basement.
By Tuesday, her basement had been scrubbed clean three times, but her anger had not subsided.
“I’m disgusted with this sewer system,” she said. “I’m sick of this (expletive).”
Dozens of residents in Crawford’s neighborhood, as well as others sprinkled throughout the city, dealt with water and sewage rising in their basements Thursday when heavy downpours inundated the region.
Fire Chief Bill Frye said the majority of the department’s 38 calls that day were for residents who believed sewage was mixed in with the water flooding their homes. In those situations, Frye said firefighters can only isolate utilities that may be affected to prevent a fire or other hazard.
The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County’s plant in Penn Borough got 3.71 inches of rain Thursday, which spokesman Matthew Junker called “extraordinary.”
The city supplied West Jeannette residents with several large trash receptacles that were packed Tuesday with furniture, books and other damaged items. Councilwoman Robin Mozley has been meeting with affected residents in that neighborhood and others on North Fifth, Mill and South Sixth streets and Pitcairn Avenue.
“A lot of people had appliances ruined,” she said. “Unfortunately, for a lot of them, this was not their first rodeo.”
It was the fourth time Crawford’s basement flooded in as many years. She’s on a fixed income and can’t afford to keep replacing big-ticket items. She has started placing her things on stacked pallets in her basement. But some items, like her new Christmas tree and rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, couldn’t be salvaged.
“I’m just tired of losing everything,” she said.
City officials plan to meet with MAWC to make sure residents like Crawford don’t have to buy new appliances every time there’s a heavy rain, Mozley said.
“The reality of it is they’re only good until the next time,” she said. “We want to sit down at the table, work together and find a solution.”
Junker said the rain inundated Jeannette’s sewer system, which in some areas has storm water and wastewater flowing through the same pipes.
“While there are points within a combined system designed to release pressure, the pipes can only handle so much flow before pressure rises to the point that it will back up and flow through manholes and basements,” he said.
The authority is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection on a $12 million long-term plan to address those issues. Fixes include upgrading the pump station at the Penn plant and redesigning points where pressure would be relieved, Junker said.
The City of Jeannette Municipal Authority raised rates to implement that plan prior to being sold to MAWC in 2015 for $22 million, he said. The plan is in the permitting and planning stage.
Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, is planning to discuss potential funding opportunities with the DEP on Wednesday that could help municipalities along Brush Creek create a comprehensive flood plan. She visited neighborhoods Thursday with Mozley.
“There’s so much to look at here,” she said. “Not everyone can just move. What is our role in helping them so that staying in their homes doesn’t cost them thousands of dollars every year?”
Tay Waltenbaugh, who is running for Ward’s seat next year, visited the affected areas Monday and reached out to community groups he is familiar with from his days as director of Westmoreland Community Action.
Waltenbaugh, of Hempfield, said he hopes to get an appliance donation program together quickly to help. In the meantime, Mozley has been collecting the information of those whose appliances were damaged in an effort to connect them to community resources.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rs[email protected] or via Twitter .