WARRENDALE, Allegheny County — Residents of Harmony and Zelienople shook off the muddy floodwaters of the past two months and danced Sunday to the music of local artists during a fundraiser to help flood victims.
Community members staged Rising Above the Floodwaters, as the event was titled, at Jergel's Rhythm Grille, just south of Cranberry Township.
Residents of Harmony decided to put on the event, which featured musical performances, after heavy rainfall in May and June led to several flooding or near-flooding incidents. The event raised money for the affected communities such as Harmony that was inundated in May after heavy rainfall.
Listening to Dennis McCurdy, a local lawyer, belt out original tunes, residents such as Joe White of the Harmony planning commission remembered the history of flooding from Connoquenessing Creek.
“Well ... if dateline Harmony didn't hit the front page of USA Today after Hurricane Ivan,” White recalled. “The world at large took it to mean that Harmony was destroyed. Fortunately, the death calls of Harmony were premature. But that was our wake-up call.”
White said the region's flooding problems are tied to commercial and residential development in areas such as Jackson Township.
“The flooding is just a symptom of the bigger issue: What do we, as a community, want the Connoquenessing Creek to be?” White asked. “The creek is a public policy issue.”
The genesis of Sunday night's event was the result of flooding in May when Josh Meeder's building called The Center of Harmony, a banquet hall and community space, became flooded. With the help of others, Meeder worked for almost 12 hours to pump water away from Mercer Street to fight the water damage.
“After, a lot of people who have played reached out, including Jim Donovan, to help us out,” Meeder said. “We thought, 'Let's hold an event and raise money.' It was amazing how many people stepped up.”
With the money that they raise and a GoFundMe page set up for the same purpose, Meeder said the organizers plan to form a five-person panel to decide how the money will be spent. The panel will be composed of two county government workers, a local church leader, a local resident and one business person. Together, the panel members will take anonymous submissions for funding requests.
Sunday's fundraiser also served as a gathering for people to share their flood stories and brainstorm ways to prevent further flooding. Many, including Meeder, said over the last two years flooding has become a more pronounced problem.
“We have so much development in the county. Watersheds are taking more water than we ever had,” Meeder said. “And with all the recent rain, it shows what a mess we have.”
Sherry Szakelyhidi owns a home along Connoquenessing Creek a mile south of Zelienople and considers herself lucky that she didn't experience any flooding this year.
“Once you've been flooded you get a whole new appreciation for what real devastation is,” Szakelyhidi said.
The fundraiser, she said, is just the beginning of the community's efforts to address long-term solutions to preventing future flooding.
Martina Matthews, who lives in Zelienople, said she had “raging rapids” on her block during the May flooding.
“This is not going away. It's not a one-time thing. We'll be getting a repeat performance,” Matthews said. “Development is being built all around us and drowning us in the process. All the administrators and township leaders have to come together and look at the bigger picture.”