Town hall meeting tries to tackle flooding in Shadyside


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Portions of Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside have earned the unfortunate nickname of "Lake Ellsworth" because of recurrent flooding during heavy rainfall.

The problem was the subject of a community town hall meeting held Sunday at First Unitarian Church on Morewood and Ellsworth avenues.

Chronic flooding in some East End homes and businesses has forced residents to replace furnaces, hot water heaters and carpeting several times.

The deaths of four people caused by flash flooding on Washington and Allegheny River boulevards in August 2011 brought the problem to the forefront.

As urban and suburban development expands with large parking lots and buildings, there is less ground to absorb large amounts of rainwater. With the region facing an Environmental Protection Agency-mandated overhaul of its sewer systems, meeting organizers called upon regional leaders to ensure that the sewer overhaul will stop flooding, improve neighborhoods and create jobs.

They stressed the need to look to green solutions to the flooding problem, rather than the proposed "gray infrastructure" -- which involves the construction of underground tunnels and larger collector pipes to handle the overflow. Green alternatives include bioswales, which can absorb or convey runoff, and permeable pavements that allow the stormwater to pass through.

Pittsburgh City Council candidate Dan Gilman was asked to commit to working toward solutions to the neighborhood's problems, and to continue to meet with the group when the new city administration begins, which he pledged to do. Mr. Gilman, who also lives in the neighborhood, talked about similar problems on Maryland Avenue in Shadyside, citing one home where the basement had flooded seven times. The problem was solved with infrastructure improvements, he said.

First Unitarian has sustained repeated water damage during heavy rains, with flooding in the basement, library and elevator pit.

In June 2009, powerful thunderstorms caused flash flooding throughout the region, including Ellsworth Avenue, where cars parked on the street ended up under several feet of water.

Nick Izzo, president of the First Unitarian board of trustees, was at the church for a meeting that evening, He recalled coming out of the church and seeing his car, which was parked across the street, under 3 feet of water. His car was totaled, along with others belonging to people attending Neighborhood Academy commencement ceremonies at the church.

The church is launching an initiative to solve its flooding problems using green techniques, including rain barrels, rain gardens and low-flow plumbing fixtures

They hope their plans will serve as a model for others in the neighborhood and beyond. "Our efforts alone won't stop Lake Ellsworth. This is a social justice issue. We're part of a wider community," Mr. Izzo said.

The meeting was hosted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

environment - neigh_east

Adrian McCoy: amccoy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.


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