Pittsburgh, Allegheny County prepare for rain and landslides that have plagued the region in 2018
A landslide several weeks ago took out part of List Street in Pittsburgh’s Spring Hill neighborhood, blocking vehicle access for about 16 people living on dead-end List and Schnittgen streets.
Neighbors like Pat and Bill Aymar, who live on Schnittgen, are using a wagon they bought for $130 to cart groceries several hundred yards along the closed streets. A city official told them it would take nine months to a year to repair List.
“Nobody can understand what we’re going through unless they live here and see what’s going on,” said Pat Aymar, 68. “I’ll call my husband and he’ll pull the cart down and load it with the groceries. Then he goes and parks. Most of us are elderly down here. I don’t know what we’re going to do in the winter.”
Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, said the city plans to built a temporary access road linking List with Lappe Lane while working to repair the List slide. The slide requires a 60-foot-high retaining wall, she said.
“We are doing a temporary intervention to help them now and we’re engineering for the permanent fix,” she said.
“We should be able to start building that in the next month, so before winter comes we’ll have vehicular access restored to those homes.”
With 3 to 5 inches of rain predicted from remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon over the weekend, city and Allegheny County officials are preparing for the worst. The city and county are adding staff for weekend duty in case of landslides and flooding.
“I think we can say with confidence that landslides will almost always be of concern in times of unusually high precipitation, as we are seeing this year,” said Matt Brown, chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services.
Record-setting precipitation in 2018 touched off hundreds of landslides across Southwestern Pennsylvania. Allegheny County earlier this year sought a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would trigger release of emergency funds. The county estimated slides caused $18 million in damage in 31 municipalities, including Pittsburgh, between February and April.
“We are still in the appeal process with (the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) and FEMA for a presidential disaster declaration for the bulk of the landslides that we saw Feb. 15th through April 24th of 2018,” Brown said. “The final draft of the appeal is with PEMA right now and will be submitted for consideration in the coming weeks.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in July added $1.5 million to a landslide budget to address slide damage on Greenleaf Street in Duquesne Heights, Swinburne Street in South Oakland, Advent Street in Elliot and List Street and Diana streets in Spring Hill. Ricks said the city would spend up to $3 million before year’s end on slide repairs.
Regis McGuigan, who lives on Diana Street, said the slide closed the street and is threatening one of his three garages. He said the city informed him and neighbors that it plans to begin remediation work this month.
“I’m at an age where I just don’t get mad anymore,” McGuigan, 68, said. “I just take things as they come.”
Pittsburgh Public Works Director Mike Gable said he’s scheduled extra staff at each of the city’s five DPW divisions through the weekend for emergency response because of the rain. Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said police, fire and paramedic units would be added for flood response.
“We’re going to ramp up our weekend crews to have better coverage around the city,” Gable said. “Of course we’re going to support the other departments, public safety and the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, for whatever they might need with regard to any potential flooding, landslides, any of those issues that come along with the weather.”
City and county officials are advising residents and visitors to avoid driving through standing water, check their property to make sure rainwater can easily flow to drains and secure anything outside that could become airborne and cause damage.
Pat Aymar said she and neighbors have experienced enough headaches.
About two weeks ago, a storm blew over a large tree that struck a utility pole and knocked out power for about seven hours. This week a PWSA crew fixing a leaky pipe and valve cut off their water for most of a day and caused low pressure that now requires residents of Spring Hill and City View to boil water.
“This is not a good summer for me,” she said.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.