Communities unite to tackle flooding woes

Report's results not positive

July 24, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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A joint effort last year by several communities aimed to find solutions for persistent, worsening flooding in southwest Butler County.

It examined historical data and reassessed the watershed and waterways believed to cause the most issues.

However, when the lengthy report was turned over to various entities earlier this year, the results were less than positive.

It stated that any number of fixes would take years or decades to implement and would cost millions of dollars. The results would be “negligible,” with most of the options explored resulting in a change of one foot or less to the flood levels during 10-, 50-, 100- or 500-year flood events.

Despite the bad news, officials believe the study should serve as an example of how a potential solution to flooding woes must be accomplished — through collaboration and a pooling of resources.

The study, conducted by Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc., was undertaken by the county after a round of severe flooding in Harmony. According to Mark Gordon, the county's chief of economic development and planning, a property owner there was inundated, with water rising above two levels of terraced vegetation and spilling into their yard.

The culprit was determined to be a downed tree in the Connoquenessing Creek, which created further backups.

Gordon said that after investigating and contacting the Department of Environmental Protection and FEMA, it appeared no help was on the horizon.

Gordon said the matter of who was responsible for the tree and its removal was complicated, with agencies indicating that the municipality where the tree came to rest ultimately was in charge.

“It wasn't their problem, but it became their problem,” he said.

Gordon and the county commissioners recognized that a study looking into solutions would not come cheap.

This led the county to unite with Harmony and Zelienople boroughs, Jackson Township and the Western Butler County Authority to pay for the roughly $30,000 cost.

The study looked at numerous solutions to widen the floodplain and eliminate blockages. The engineering firm reran hydraulic studies for the study zone and compared them to previous versions.

Due to the cost of the solutions studied and the minimal impact, the report indicates the benefits were “difficult to determine.”

However, the report notes such projects can take 10 years or more to complete. Even once finished, any of the investigated solutions would require ongoing maintenance and, in the case of such flood control measures as levees, operation costs.

“HRG recommends that the municipalities and residents impacted by the flooding events evaluate other existing regulatory and assistance programs related to residential flood proofing, and/or relocation to provide relief to those (who) reside within the floodplain,” the report states.

Gordon said the study shows how serious the county and those municipalities consider the flooding issue.

“Would we have liked to have seen less cost-prohibitive, low-hanging fruit solutions? Of course,” he said. “They're just not there.”

Despite the gloomy outlook outlined in the report, Gordon said there is a positive to be mined from the venture.

He said bringing municipalities together was a great step toward a future in which they work together to find solutions.

Gordon said it is difficult to put together a strategic plan if all affected parties aren't at the table. He said a good starting point would be to bring communities from the entire watershed together and invite the public to get involved.

“You can go out and do the engineering analysis, but there's nothing like (public input),” he said.

The DEP and other government entities could also become involved, Gordon said.

In addition to generating a comprehensive plan and performing additional studies, Gordon envisions the group working together on funding some of the projects, breaking up the large price tags, so the individual contributions would be more palatable.

He said the county's infrastructure bank, which provides low-interest loans to allow municipalities the opportunity to complete projects that would otherwise be unaffordable, could offer financial assistance.

Gordon believes the group would help turn words in a report into a plan of attack.

“You don't want bookshelf material,” he said. “You want something that can be enacted upon.”

Gordon said he is hopeful that local leaders will come to the table, as collaboration is the best step toward helping residents affected by flooding.

“I don't envy the position municipalities are in,” he said. “They're called to service in a lot of different directions.”

Zelienople Manager Don Pepe said the borough would “absolutely” work with neighboring municipalities, as flooding is a regional issue that must be addressed as such.

He said stormwater management plans created by each municipality are likely done correctly and address only that community's issues.

However, he added that the plans don't take the impact on neighboring communities into account — a problem collaboration would solve.

“Flooding doesn't begin or end at any municipal line,” he said. “We need to be able to plan and talk about issues on a regional scope.”

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.