Two weeks after hard rain fell on Oakdale, some residents and business owners still are recovering from the damage -- and wondering why a flood happened again.
On July 10, North Branch and Robinson Run creeks overflowed their banks, causing the worst flood in Oakdale since Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The flood resulted in more than $600,000 in damage to 52 homes, 15 businesses and several borough properties, fire Chief Bill Hartman Jr. said.
During a town council meeting July 18, some residents and business owners demanded creek dredging -- the process of removing underwater material to deepen a waterway -- and questioned why improvements hadn't been made in the nearly nine years since the last flood.
Patrick Konieczny, owner of Thomas-Little Funeral Service on Noblestown Road, said the borough had failed to keep the pressure on state legislators to help achieve flooding solutions.
"After Ivan in 2004, what happened is we dropped the ball," Mr. Konieczny said. "We [business owners and residents] have already lost, so it's your turn to step up and do something as a council."
Council President Ron Gamble said that the small borough has limited powers to clean debris from the creeks and that after the 2004 flood, the Army Corps of Engineers refused to dredge Oakdale's waterways, which are controlled by the state.
Mark Simonds, a resident and pastor of Oakdale United Presbyterian Church, said even if it's only a partial solution, dredging could lessen the harm caused by water overflow.
"If we can reduce inches, that will reduce damage considerably," he said.
Mayor Paul Hennemuth said dredging is not an effective long-term solution to flooding, and "there needs to be a more comprehensive plan."
The mayor said borough leaders are committed to seeking help from county, state and federal agencies until they've exhausted all options for lessening and preventing flood recurrence.
Most downtown businesses have reopened, including Moore's Hardware, Sil's, The Diner and Oakdale Inn.
Remaining closed during cleanup and restoration are the hardest hit businesses along Seminary Avenue, including a day care (where firefighters had rescued children during the flood), a travel/insurance agency and five businesses in the commercial plaza.
Tom Burke, owner of Pepperoncini's Pizza & Wing Pub, said he plans to reopen in about a month. PNC Bank plans to reopen, and in the meantime has opened an onsite mobile banking center with an ATM and with tellers available Monday to Friday.
Chiropractor Michael Clarkin, owner of Clarkin Family Chiropractic, decided not to wait and rebuild.
The day after his plaza office flooded -- ruining all of his patient records and the interior renovations he'd invested in since 2006 -- he leased a nearby building, across from the Union Avenue post office. He's already seeing patients. Setting up in the new space, with the help of volunteer labor, will cost under $5,000, rather than an estimated $30,000 to $40,000, he said.
"I'm so glad I found this place and I could stay here [in Oakdale]," Mr. Clarkin said. "We are going to turn a negative into positive and make it better than my last place."
The Oakdale Community Center on Seminary Avenue won't reopen until September, borough officials said.
In the Noblestown Road municipal building, the main office will operate upstairs, next to the police department, until August, when first-floor repairs are expected to be completed.
Three fire department vehicles were serviced and cleaned, but overall damage was limited because firefighters had begun storing equipment and supplies off the ground following the 2004 flood, Chief Hartman said.
The annual Oakdale Hose Co. carnival is continuing as planned tonight through Saturday on Noblestown Road.
At the council meeting, several residents were in tears that their basements had flooded again -- twice in the same decade -- and asked for relief on their water bills to alleviate flood cleanup costs.
One homeowner put it this way: "My question is, Should I just move? I can't do this again."
Residents gave ideas, besides dredging, for reducing flooding, such as constructing retaining walls along the creeks; building a dam with a spillway; cleaning out stormwater drains; and seeking advice from communities, such as Millvale, that have improved their creeks.
Some blamed worsening floods on neighboring developments and associated stormwater runoff.
Marylynn Campbell of Noblestown Road said her basement flooded with 5 feet of sewage, causing about $60,000 in damage.
The borough is in the process of inspecting and repairing its sewage system, which is more than 100 years old, officials said.
Fire Chief Hartman, who also acts as the borough's emergency response coordinator, said the town must revise its flood emergency plan and improve its phone notification system for flash floods.
The Red Cross can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 for possible help with hot water tanks and furnaces, he said. Cleanup buckets from that organization are available at the fire station.
Low-interest disaster loans are available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Mr. Hennemuth said.
Immediately after the flood, Oakdale declared a disaster emergency, the mayor said.
He said that during the week after the flood, Oakdale officials met and toured the town with visiting representatives from Allegheny County, the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; state legislators Tim Murphy and Matt Smith; the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mr. Hennemuth said the borough's next steps include coordinating volunteer help for businesses and residents still in need of assistance.
The mayor thanked everyone who had assisted immediately after the flood. "There was a lot of helping going on," he said.
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.