Western Pennsylvania municipalities will vie for landslide, flood relief
Matt Brown, emergency services chief for Allegheny County, Wednesday urged municipalities battered by landslides and recurring flooding to compete for a new pot of federal funding.
Up to $10 million in hazard-mitigation grants has been made available statewide, despite the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denying Western Pennsylvania’s request to declare a disaster because of a spate landslides and related challenges last year.
FEMA denied the local request but granted federal disaster status to 10 counties in Eastern Pennsylvania in December — and 15 percent of that funding, or about $9 million to $10 million, will be split among municipalities in need scattered across the state.
‘Very limited, very competitive’
The amount available in this funding round is “very competitive” and “very limited,” considering that Allegheny County alone sustained at least $21.7 million in public damage related to a spate of landslides last spring, Brown said. He spoke Wednesday afternoon during a news conference at the new headquarters of Allegheny Emergency Services in Moon.
“I don’t think that we will have a capacity to recover from a lot of the challenges that we have, but this is an opportunity that we don’t want to turn away from,” Brown said. “We’re going to go after every penny of that that we can possibly go after.”
County officials invited municipal managers to two meetings and workshops with Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency officials on Wednesday to inform them of the newly available funding, which must be spent on hazard-mitigation efforts.
Eligible projects include the acquisition and demolition of homes in flood plains, known as buyouts; the elevation of home foundations and various preparation tools, such as buying backup generators or emergency notification warning systems.
County officials pointed to ball fields in Bridgeville and a flooded residential area-turned-green space in Hampton as among success stories that municipalities achieved using prior awards of hazard mitigation funding.
Wet ground, more landslides ahead
Last year, record-setting precipitation touched off hundreds of landslides across Western Pennsylvania.
Officials are bracing for more landslides and flooding damage this spring.
“We did not really see that lessen up through the year in 2018 … and the conditions continue to worsen. We’ve never dried out,” Brown said. “After five days with no rain, there’s still water coming out of the hillsides. And we’ve seen that for a year now.”
Brown said county officials recently found files dating to 1975 “documenting almost to the street the exact same problems that we saw last year.”
“So this is nothing new,” Brown said. “We just need to be able to educate all the municipalities about it, how to plan and prepare for it and how to move forward.
“We’re exhausting every effort and every opportunity to be able to promote that recovery from what we’ve seen so far, but more importantly, planning and preparing for what’s about to come.”
The county aims to pool together municipalities and offer resources they might not be able to afford to invest in independently — such as a new GIS mapping tool and application that will allow municipal officials to pinpoint prior landslides and landslide-prone areas along residential streets and commercial businesses across the region.
Separately, the city of Pittsburgh in July added $1.5 million to its landslide budget to address slide damage on Greenleaf Street in Duquesne Heights, Swinburne Street in South Oakland, Advent Street in Elliot and List Street and Diana streets in Spring Hill. Ricks said the city would spend up to $3 million before year’s end on slide repairs.
FEMA buyouts on the rise
In the past five years, FEMA funding has helped to acquire and demolish nearly 600 homes at pre-damage, or “pre-event,” value in Pennsylvania, ranging from a single-family property to an entire block or neighborhood, said Tom Hughes, state hazard mitigation officer for PEMA.
The priority of funding depends on a range of factors, including the extent of damage, frequency of a problem and level of detail and convincing evidence provided in a municipality’s grant application, Hughes said.
“We run into this all the time, where there’s more need than there is money,” Hughes said. “We have some homes that were destroyed, so they don’t have a home to go to, so they’re going to be up higher than, say, some of the other folks that were able to repair and get back home.”
Hughes emphasized that other sources of federal funding and additional funding rounds may be available later this year.
Homeowners impacted by flooding or related events who live on flood plains should seek individual assistance via FEMA and may also want to let their municipal leaders know if they have interest in a home buyout.
PEMA plans to collect requests from municipalities by the end of February and submit its funding requests to FEMA by May, Hughes said.
It could take 18 months to two years until a municipality that wins an award receives the money.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter .