Oakdale and McDonald explore options to end repeated flooding

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From the time hard rains flooded homes and businesses in July, Oakdale and McDonald officials have been working to find help and solutions to prevent future floods in their small boroughs.

At the same time, Oakdale business owners who suffered major flooding last month and in 2004 continue to call for action.

"There's a serious [flooding] problem, and it's sad that it's happening," Donna Dobos, owner of a Union Avenue gift shop, said during the Oakdale council meeting Aug. 1. "I'll do anything, anything there is," she said. "I'll march in Harrisburg. I'll sign a petition. I'll write letters. But I'm tired. ... I can't keep getting flooded."

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has agreed to clean up the creeks under three state-owned bridges, and the borough has been able to remove some debris, council members said.

Council President Ron Gamble said that "every elected official we have" has visited Oakdale and securing the state bridge clean outs was a significant step.

"We are getting results," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

Business owner Desire Kramer said the borough needs to improve communication with local businesses and take "some drastic actions wherever they can right now because [the peak of] hurricane season is right around the corner."

Mr. Kramer said he and his brother are working on flood restoration themselves because they can't afford a loan.

"If this happens again, this town is going to be a ghost town," he said.

Mayor Paul Hennemuth said the borough is losing one business due to the July flood -- Huckleberry's Deli & Grocery in the Seminary Avenue commercial plaza. The owners are calling it quits, he said, but the plaza landlord has heard from others who may reopen a convenience store.

The Oakdale borough office, 6115 Noblestown Road, reopened Aug. 1, but the Oakdale Community Center, 104 Seminary Ave., will remain closed until September, the mayor said.

Oakdale has sent letters to some neighboring communities about forming a consortium to examine creek and flood solutions.

Nearby McDonald wants to join, its council President Marilou Ritchie said. Officials in both McDonald and Oakdale have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge their creeks, but they have been refused.

"It's not a permanent solution, is exactly what they said," Ms. Ritchie said during the McDonald council meeting Aug. 5.

McDonald got an emergency permit to clear debris from under an O'Hara Street bridge, she said, but other than that, "we can't get into that creek at all."

Councilman Tom Rockwell said Heritage Park was hit hard but the cleanup of the park has gone well.

All of the businesses in the Giant Eagle shopping center are back in operation, Councilman Mike Schaal said.

Federal and state emergency management agencies have visited McDonald to assess damage but have yet to report findings.

"I was mortified, I was sad, I was disappointed [about the flood]," Ms. Ritchie said. "But mostly I was proud of how we responded. The fire department, our police department, our public works, they all pulled together."

In Oakdale, 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.

Flood victims will get a break on their July water bill. Council voted last week to bill based on average monthly usage and not charge for the extra water used in cleanup efforts.

PennDOT was expected to begin clearing debris soon from under the Clinton Avenue bridge at Clef Drive.

Cleanup under two bridges on Route 978 and Noblestown Road -- at the confluence of the Robinson Run and North Branch creeks -- won't begin for at least two months because PennDOT must hire a contractor and get permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Oakdale officials said.

Mr. Hennemuth said the agency would be allowed to remove debris from within 50 feet of both sides of each bridge.

The mayor hoped PennDOT would remove dirt and silt that has collected along North Branch and narrowed the waterway from 12 feet to 4 feet near the confluence. The restoration would quicken water flow, he said.

Borough workers have been removing trash and debris from the creeks to the extent they are allowed by law, the mayor said.

Allegheny County was to clean out clogged catch basins on a county-owned portion of Seminary Avenue in South Fayette, but Oakdale is responsible for its portion of the road, officials said.

Borough engineer Rob Arnold said he has examined a resident's proposal to build a dam and spillway that would divert water into the Clinton Avenue ballpark when needed.

"It's a relatively good idea," he said. "The issue, if we're going to pursue it, is time and money."

Mr. Hennemuth said the borough is open to all possible flood solutions.

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Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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