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Vandergrift lands state grant for hillside repairs

| Tuesday, May 4, 2004

VANDERGRIFT -- The borough has gotten word that a $30,000 state grant has come through for hillside repairs along the East Vandergrift line, bringing the total in grants for the hillside stabilization project up to $130,000.

These grants are earmarked for drainage solutions and other improvements to the steep hillside that gave way to a mudslide in January, forcing the evacuation of East Vandergrift resident Susan Zalenski and her two children.

Vandergrift is where the mudslide started. Heavy rains washed out the foundation of the Ninth Street alley at the top of the hill. When that gave way, some 30 feet of alley pavement and mud crumbled toward East Vandergrift and Zalenski's house.

Zalenski, who has been living with relatives for four months, let council have it in a loud and tearful complaint Monday evening. She said Vandergrift officials could have done more to prevent the mudslide.

Council members answered that they're doing all they can.

"I think it's really an injustice," Zalenski told council. "I will fight this to the end."

She left the meeting in tears.

Next month, a construction firm could be chosen for the job of stabilizing the hillside, and it could take roughly until August before the work would be finished.

Borough engineers originally estimated it would cost $165,000 to stabilize the hillside, which would make Vandergrift about $35,000 short if the borough were to rely on the grants the borough has collected so far.

But Council President Christine Wilson said Monday that was a high-end estimate.

"I'm hoping we get some good prices and we can do it all," Wilson said.

The repair plan also calls for resurfacing the Ninth Street alley, installing a retaining wall, and installing a gabion wall.

Free-draining gabion walls, which are rectangular piles of broken stone encased in fencing, can reduce runoff problems.

To prevent future problems with Ninth Street alley crumbling down the hill, Councilman Jeff Zinchini said the borough should consider asking residents of the alley to put their garbage out front, along Franklin Avenue, instead out back, along Ninth Street.

This way, heavy garbage trucks won't add stress to the hillside, Zinchini said.

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