This past weekend in central Bridgeville, scores of residents, business owners, and contractors were busy with the difficult work of cleaning up after the flood that damaged dozens of homes and businesses
But while the people of Baldwin Street and surrounding areas focused on the immediate problem at hand—clearing out appliances, furniture, drywall, carpet, and other possessions destroyed by floodwaters—there was a looming sense of uncertainty about what was going to happen to their homes, their finances, and their neighborhood.
Borough officials have been on-site personally providing information to residents. But the problem is, some of the most important questions don’t yet have clear answers.
Will FEMA provide financial assistance to property owners who suffered losses in the flood?
State and county officials have been visiting the area to tally up the flood-related damages. They will send a report to Gov. Tom Wolf, who will then request that FEMA make a disaster declaration and provide federal assistance to Pennsylvanians who suffered losses in the floods.
Whether FEMA follows through on Wolf’s request will depend on some simple math. Each state and county in the United States has been assigned a specific dollar-amount damage threshold — let’s call it the “magic number.” If the net damages from a flood or hurricane exceed the magic number, FEMA declares a national disaster and opens its checkbook. If the damages fall below the magic number, FEMA will not intervene. (It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but magic number really is the crucial thing).
Pennsylvania’s magic number is approximately $18.2 million. Allegheny County’s magic number is around $4.4 million.
So Bridgeville residents should hope that the total statewide damages from last week’s floods exceeds $18.2 million or that county-wide damages exceed $4.4 million.
How much money does FEMA pay flood victims?
This would depend on your personal situation, as FEMA offers several types of assistance to people affected by disasters. If you’re looking for a very rough ballpark figure, the total per-person compensation for Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Harvey was in the $6,000-$10,000 range.
It’s important to note that FEMA would also help local government cover the extremely high cost of running a clean-up operation. Last year, Bridgeville had to raise property taxes to cover a budget shortfall. Without FEMA assistance, the borough will be dipping into its general fund to pay the companies helping Bridgeville recover from the flood.
Is somebody ever going to do something about the flooding in the area?
Yes. For years, public officials have been trying to address the problem in various ways within the financial constraints of the borough budget.
McLaughlin Run Creek was dredged in 2013. For several years now, borough has been inspecting its sewer laterals for leaks and infiltration and repairing as needed. Last year, Bridgeville joined a multi-community flood fighting alliance. And as of last week, the borough was applying for an Army Corps of Engineers grant to further address flooding issues.
The problem hasn’t been a lack of “doing something” on Bridgeville’s end. But rather that the actions taken have not yet solved the problem.
Let me rephrase that: “can” somebody finally fix the flooding in the area?
Two years ago, the borough hired a consultant to outline a new approach to address stormwater management in the area. At the most basic level, the idea is to add a park-like greenspace on both sides of McLaughlin Run Creek. Grass and soil absorb water better than asphalt and concrete, obviously, so greenspace could help buffer the raging rapids that come downstream from Upper St. Clair while also preventing the creek from spilling over its banks.
But making that happen involves a lot more than planting grass and trees. In other communities, these types of stormwater management plans sometimes require significant topographical changes.
For Bridgeville, that could mean re-rerouting McLaughlin Run creek, altering the path of Bower Hill Road, purchasing existing buildings, demolishing those buildings, and using that land to create a greenspace.
Two notes about all of this:
- Although borough officials have discussed this project at past meetings, the exact details should be considered speculative until the planning commission or the borough releases a formal document.
- It’s worth noting that this is a stormwater management plan, not a 100% guaranteed flood prevention system. Last week’s flood formed so quickly and moved with such force that even the best greenspace system and rerouted waterway might not have completely negated it.
Why does this sound expensive?
Because it probably would be. But the borough’s consultant, Environmental Planning and Design, said last summer that grant money could help fund this effort and Bridgeville could approach this as a long-term project to be built over time based on available resources.
Is this actually going to happen?
We have no idea.
But tonight (Monday) at 7 p.m., the Bridgeville Planning Commission meets at the borough building. If you’re interested in learning more about the future of the Baldwin Street Corridor, it might be a good time to stop down and ask questions.
UPDATE: The June 25 planning commission meeting has been canceled.