Disaster Declaration: A WTAJ Investigation

Local News

This was the wettest summer on record. Not only was it the overall amount of rainfall, but there were several rounds of extreme rainfall that brought on disaster declarations and emergency action from the State Emergency Management Agency, and PennDOT meant crippling damage to roads, and homes.

Residents are still trying to repair. Could some of the home flooding have been prevented or avoided? And what can stop it next time? We investigated one of the hardest hit areas to find out.

This summer, the rain came down hard, fast, and often. In the midst of our wettest summer on record, we had a couple of extreme rain events that brought devastation. Most haven’t seen this kind of flooding, not just a one-in-100 year flood, but one-in-500 year flood.

The first happened in the Duncansville area with rainfall amounts ranging from 2″ on the east side of town to near 6″ in the Maple Hollow area. All of which came in a couple of hours, bringing flash flooding to places that normally would not flood. Here is a radar image during the height of the deluge. 

To make it worse, a month and a day later, the Duncansville area was hit hard again. During the morning of August 3, the area was hit with 2-4″ in a very short period. Here is a radar image of the second event.

Given the saturated ground, the water had no place to go.The resultant was the flash flooding to the extent that some have never seen before. 

The Chief at Geeseytown Fire Company told WTAJ they were close to the point of a mandatory evacuation on Broad Street.
These two events punctuated one thing. Older neighborhoods such as Penns Farm in Blair Township lacked infrastructure to this storm water runoff.

Mark Michrina’s home was in the cross hairs. Hit multiple times by a river of storm water runoff, insurance didn’t cover the thousands of dollars of items lost.
“Its hard to describe the amount of work it takes to recover from something like this,” said Mark Michrina, flood victim in Blair Township.

After the flooding, Michrina and many other affected residents asked Blair Township to do something at a September meeting. He told WTAJ, “My goal in coming to the meeting was get the board to agree it was a problem and needed to come up with a true solution for everybody affected by it.”
Mark took pictures and video of his neighborhood and how the water collected at his home.
Putting in storm water drains didn’t appear to be an option. Michrina didn’t have much hope for improvement. Neither did Vicky Nyland.
She said, “They really didn’t offer up solutions, they just said we understand, and one supervisor talked about the money an awful lot”

So we met with Chairman Supervisor Ed Silvetti, to see how they plan to identify and solve the problem areas. One of their main focus points was Mark Michrina’s property, so we went there to investigate the issue. It turns out there are two storm pipes leading in and only one going out. The backup, is causing flooding, and its something the township may be able to fix.

“This pipe network works the whole way down, wade on Lowrey,” said Michrina.

They go over the maps with us, pointing out that upper Penn Farms pre-dates proper management techniques. Ed Silvetti says, “When it was put in, storm water management was an afterthought, as it was with every other municipality.”

A key problem is that the township didn’t always enforce the requirement of installing a stormwater system. Silvetti says that has to stop. “We need to enforce particularly on development and construction from this point on.”

While homeowners have a responsibility to install proper water management systems on their property, the townships also must act. Silvetti says, “We will fulfill our legal responsibility when correcting issues for what we are responsible.”
That will likely mean raising Blair Township taxes to pay the repair bills, or charging a storm water maintenance fee for a limited time.

Michrina is now hopeful that he and so many other property owners won’t be holding the bag when it’s time to sell. He says, “If this problem isn’t fixed how would anyone ever want to buy this property from us?”

They anticipate finishing the report by the end of the year. Blair Township supervisors must then decide which improvement projects could be worked into a plan, and paid for.

And this is something that needs to be addressed as the number of heavy rain events has increased tremendously over the past 60 years. The chart below shows the number of days with 1″ or more of rainfall in a single day. The dark line shows the change through the period.
What can you do? Check your local storm water management plan or ordinance, look to install something like a rain garden or rock sump. You can’t just divert water to your neighbor’s property.

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