Officials meet in McDonald to talk flood prevention

Published Sep 5, 2013 at 9:56 am (Updated Sep 5, 2013 at 9:56 am)

Officials representing more than a dozen federal, state and local governments and agencies converged in McDonald Wednesday to discuss possible solutions to severe flooding plaguing communities along the Robinson Run watershed.

“We all know why we’re here,” said Marilou Ritchie, president of McDonald Borough Council and architect of the roundtable discussion. “In 2013, there was the flood … it was horrendous. We all know it’s coming back, we’re not done yet. That’s why we invited all these folks who are going to help. … I think all together we can make a big difference.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Environmental Protection and Washington County Planning Commission were in attendance, along with municipal representatives from McDonald, Midway, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson, Bridgeville, Oakdale and North and South Fayette.

The municipalities all suffered damage during the recent flood and represented communities in Washington and Allegheny counties. McDonald Borough has properties in both counties.

Remnants of tropical storm Ivan deluged the area in 2004, and heavy downpours flooded large numbers of homes and businesses in July.

“This is not the first time, probably not the last time I’m here to deal with flood issues,” Murphy said.

Murphy had toured flooded areas in his district following the most recent storm and petitioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release funding to devastated areas. To date, no action had been taken on requests to FEMA and its state counterpart, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The summit featured a wide range of topics, including debris in streams, backed-up culverts, retention ponds, rainwater gardens, emergency permits, municipal authority, comprehensive stormwater management plans, wildlife impact and abandoned mine water.

With so many agencies involved in making decisions on the same stretch of waterways, the officials gathered were in favor of creating a consortium that would include all of the flood-prone municipalities.

John Peukert, an official from the U.S. Army Corps Pittsburgh District, said the consortium would help expedite the approval process for federal construction projects.

“I’m really impressed that all the townships in the watershed are here because, really, that’s what it takes,” Peukert said. “Working on individual spots on a stream just forces (water) downstream or forces it upstream.”

But even though an Army Corps project could provide a long-term solution, Peukert said it still would take time. Several phases would need to be worked through, including multiple levels of reviews – introductory, feasibility and engineering-level studies – before construction could even begin.

“Just to put the expectation out there, this doesn’t happen fast,” Peukert said. “There’s a lot of reviews involved, there’s a lot of engineering analysis. So, from the view of actually constructing a project, it could take from between three and 10 years.”

White said the consortium would help the townships and boroughs create a unified front when seeking help from state and federal agencies, as well as make the pooling of resources easier for prevention projects and cleanup efforts.

“I’m looking at a much more comprehensive approach,” White said. “I think what we should be looking at is a plan to figure out why are these problems occurring, and then we can all collectively go to court or the DEP and say, ‘We all agree this needs to be done.’”

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