Zelie looks to remove trees to alleviate flooding woes

Letters sent to 10 homeowners asking for permission to act

August 30, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Zelienople officials have worked to mitigate flooding in this stream next to the pool in Community Park.

ZELIENOPLE — Some borough residents living along a flood-prone stream received letters this week asking for permission to access their property to remove trees from the stream.

It's the first of several steps outlined in a report detailing stream obstructions and outlining stormwater improvements in the wake of several bouts with flooding.

Although the “Stormwater Evaluation Report: Spring Street & Glade Run Watersheds” existed for a few years, borough officials determinedly set about updating it after heavy storms and flooding struck the area in May.

Borough manager Don Pepe explained how an intern spent the summer documenting obstructions in the stream and classifying them as debris, structural obstructions or natural obstructions. The information was then turned over to borough engineer Tom Thompson, who compiled aerial map locations and GPS coordinates of the debris and obstructions recorded by the intern.

Thompson said while much of the information already existed, documenting new obstructions took time, but was done quickly due to the urgency to address ongoing flooding issues.

“I'm really proud of that,” he said.

A tree is uprooted near the site of one of three rock dams behind Zelienople Community Park.

Initial Work

The survey identified 17 trees believed to be causing many of the recent flood issues. According to Pepe, the stream is not the responsibility of the borough, but officials acknowledged issues would only deteriorate unless action was taken.

Pepe said letters were sent earlier this week to homeowners near 10 of the 17 trees asking for permission to access their property to remove them. He added how a contractor is ready to go once permission is given and a right of way agreement is signed.

Tree removal is one of the several new additions to the borough's stormwater management plan after May's storm. It was also the focus of many complaints at subsequent council meetings.

“I promised (tree removal) at a council meeting, so that's what I'm doing,” Pepe said.

The remaining seven trees will be addressed later. Pepe noted the removal is a “one-time” undertaking.

“We still don't own that creek,” he said. “I don't want anybody to think that once we do that, we'll continue to maintain it.”

He added that any damage to property, such as ruts caused by equipment, will be repaired. Pictures will be taken before and after the work is done to ensure damage is addressed when applicable.

The survey also notes man-made blockages, including foot bridges, tires, fire pits, bricks, brush, gravel and wooden pallets. Pepe said a second set of letters will be mailed to property owners where these obstructions are found asking them to address the issues.

“There's a whole host of problems along that creek bed, and I mean a lot,” he said.

Pepe said this will be the third time a request has been made, although this will be more formal and provide the borough with potential recourse if not addressed.

“I don't want to encroach on their property use, but at the same I don't want their property use to create a problem for somebody downstream, which then ... floods Main Street,” he pointed out.

Steps to mitigation

Pepe said much remains unchanged regarding additional suggestions included in the stormwater improvement list. The plan identifies 19 tasks totaling slightly more than $2 million.

A priority, Pepe said, involves the headwaters of a stream that runs through Community Park. When heavy rains soak the area, water flows from Interstate 79 through the park, often flooding the pool and surrounding areas.

May's storms destroyed three rock dams intended to handle about an inch of rain per hour. A new plan calls for the installation of a retention pond to handle large amounts of runoff, with an estimated cost of about $600,000, according to the report.

Pepe said council earlier this month took the first step on that project, setting aside $51,500 for permitting and initial planning. He noted work will have to be done in coordination with PennDOT, and the borough will pursue local and state grants to pay for the project.

Other improvements listed in the plan include addressing flooding by increasing pipe sizes, installing catch basins, milling and repaving borough streets and regrading. Some of the more costly projects include:

-Pipe upgrades at High Street/Beaver Street for $400,000

-Culvert replacement on Linden Street for $100,000

-Pipe upgrades on New Castle Street from Market Street to the creek for $190,000.

Pepe said items on the list will take time and money to complete, but borough officials believe the prioritized list gives them a starting place to address issues.

“I don't want to go to somebody's home and say, 'I couldn't do anything for you,'” he said. “This is going to take some time to do all of this, and let's hope Mother Nature cooperates along the way.”

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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.