Penn Township residents renew pleas for flood relief
Last week’s torrential rain brought a deluge of requests for flood relief from Penn Township residents.
More than a dozen spoke at a standing-room-only meeting of township commissioners Wednesday.
“Short of building an ark, I’ve got nothing left,” said Melissa Renwick, who lives on Bushy Run Road.
Renwick said she’s spent more than $10,000 on French drains and other flood mitigation measures on her property, to no avail.
Township leaders assured residents that help was on the way.
The township is seeking a $1.7 million state PennVEST loan to pay for flood control projects in the Harrison Park neighborhood and along Hyland Road, two of the hardest-hit areas.
Most of that money, about $1.4 million, would go toward new drainage pipes and a retention pond in the Harrison Park neighborhood.
The remaining $300,000 has been earmarked for Hyland Road, but that project is more complicated, according to township Manager Alex Graziani.
Hyland and adjoining roads flood frequently. Its drainage system was built decades ago, and is no longer up to the task, Graziani said.
“So many of the housing plans built in Penn Township in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s drain toward Hyland Road,” he said.
Most of those neighborhoods were built before the township implemented its current stormwater control rules for new developments.
Hyland Road is maintained by PennDOT, not the township. Graziani said the township has requested renovations, but PennDOT has no such plans.
That’s why some township officials want to take the road back. PennDOT has a Highway Transfer “Turnback” Program which allows for the transfer of state-owned roads to local municipalities.
The catch is money.
Gibson-Thomas Engineering, the firm employed by the township, says the road requires repaving and widening in addition to drainage improvements. The firm estimates it will take about $2.2 million to upgrade Hyland , including replacing small stormwater culverts with larger ones.
Township officials want PennDOT to pay for the work.
It’s not unusual for PennDOT to pay for all or part of the maintenance work associated with a transfer, but the expenditure is subject to negotiation.
Those negotiations haven’t started , but this week’s outcry from residents prompted commissioners to take the first step.
The proposal wasn’t on Wednesday’s agenda, but Commissioner Chuck Konkus urged his colleagues to vote immediately authorizing the township staff to pursue the transfer.
“We have a huge elephant in this room that’s been put into our laps,” he said. “And we need to take the first bite.”
The crowd repeatedly shouted “vote!” as commissioners discussed the issue.
The measure passed unanimously.
A final vote will be taken on the terms of the transfer.
Before the vote, residents shared stories of flooded basements, yards turned to swamps, and sheds swept away.
Marcy Johnson recalled a storm that hit on garbage night. The neighborhood’s trash — including dirty diapers, beer bottles and more — was swept into her yard on Concord Drive.
“It was like cleaning up after a party we hadn’t been invited to,” she said.
The first time Michael Scholze’s Nancy Drive home flooded he was told it was the result of a freak, once-in-a-lifetime rainfall. It’s happened several times since then.
“This 100-year storm has turned into a 12-year storm,” he said.
Western Pennsylvania had record rainfall in 2018 and is putting up similar numbers this year, according to the National Weather Service.
Renee Dilucente, who lives on Long Drive, said the township should have acted years ago.
“I don’t know what you expect people to do,” she said. “I can’t sell my property. I can’t use my basement … somebody didn’t do their job.”
Graziani points to steps taken both recently and decades ago to try to mitigate flooding.
“The residents will sit there and tell the commissioners, you don’t listen, you don’t care, you do nothing,” he said. “I think we’re being very aggressive and proactive in addressing our stormwater issues.”
Between 1999 and 2007 the township borrowed more than $2.8 million from the state to pay for flood control projects in Harrison Park and along Hyland Road. Those loans are nearly paid off, freeing up the township to pursue the new PennVEST loan, he said.
New developments in the township are required to permit at most half as much stormwater runoff as the undeveloped land they’re built on.
The township raised real estate taxes by 2 mills last year, budgeting most of that money for flood management.
Earlier this year the township fired its longtime engineering firm The EADS Group because commissioners were unsatisfied with the pace of work on paving and stormwater management projects, Graziani said.
He attributed the flooding problems to record rainfall and a population that has
doubled in 50 years, forcing the township to continually play catch-up, he said.
“A growing community will have growing pains,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine the residents who are so angry at this township saying we’ve done nothing. Nobody’s been kicking any cans around here.”
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .