Muck. Mud. Crud.
Whatever you call it, workers removed 280 tons of it from beneath a bridge in Oakdale -- and they were only halfway done.
A huge heap of the sediment sat along Clinton Avenue on Tuesday waiting to be hauled away, thanks to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's $50,000 project to remove about 50 years of accumulated sediment from under three state-owned bridges.
The aim is to help Robinson Run and North Branch Creek flow more freely and to prevent future flooding.
Many homes and businesses in Oakdale have been hit hard by severe floods over the past decade, first in September 2004 and again this past July.
Dave Scisciani stood on the front porch of his Clinton Avenue home this week marveling at the mound of mud.
"I couldn't have even walked under that bridge without ducking," he said.
Mr. Scisciani rebuilt his house after flood damage in 2004, and since then he had been asking the borough to get the bridge underpasses cleared out.
"This is a great start," he said. "If it ever floods again, I can imagine this town would be a ghost town."
The project involves removing debris from under the bridges to facilitate free water flow, and restoring the width of the stream beds to allow water to spread out rather than spill over.
Removed sediment was hauled to a disposal site in Ohio Township, officials said.
Dave Stoffel, a foreman with Allison Park Contractors Inc., estimated that in a week and a half, his five-man crew had removed about 280 tons of debris that had been "choking the channel" under the bridge at Clinton Avenue and Clef Drive. Work on the upstream portion of the creek was still to come.
Next week, the crew will start working under two downtown bridges on Noblestown Road and Union Avenue, at the confluence of Robinson Run and North Branch.
Council president Ron "Huck" Gamble expected the most significant work to occur under those bridges.
"This will help greatly with the flow of the stream," Mr. Gamble said. "It's a major step in trying to correct a very bad, long-lasting situation."
Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, who coordinated the bridge clean-out effort, said the project provides an "immediate, material benefit" that must be followed up by long-term, multimunicipal solutions.
"We have to create a sustainable plan going forward, but this is a significant first step in preventing future flooding," Mr. Smith said during a visit to the work site Tuesday.
Engineers from North Fayette, South Fayette and Oakdale plan to meet with the state Department of Environmental Protection later this month to discuss the influence of stormwater retention ponds on flooding issues.
North Fayette manager Bob Grimm said the towns want to work together toward a comprehensive solution.
"You have to look at it from a watershed standpoint, and not just an individual community standpoint," he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has refused to dredge the bottom of the creeks in Oakdale, although many local residents, business owners and borough officials say dredging is a necessary step.
Mr. Gamble said dredging would lower the creek, which is too high to accept water piped in from catch basins. As a result, water backs up through the storm sewers and causes flooding, he said.
For now, residents and property owners are glad to see progress being made under the bridges.
Stephanie Oramas, manager of Pepperoncini's Pub, hoped the bridge project would help improve flooding problems.
The Seminary Avenue bar and restaurant reopened Sept. 4 after recovering from roughly $200,000 in damages in the July flood. The business also had suffered losses in 2004.
"If [flooding] happens again, I don't know what we'd do," she said. "I just can't imagine going through that three times."
Short-term, single-lane closures will occur as needed at all three bridges from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Sept. 27.
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org