Flood cleanup

Blair Heeney (left), WorkLink summer staff member, and Bruce Eash, trail maintenance supervisor, help open drainage pipes under the Path of the Flood Trail in Mineral Point.

Crews spent much of Tuesday opening drains and ditches while cleaning up from a landslide that poured across the Path of the Flood Trail and into yards in Mineral Point on Sunday. 

“With the amount of rain, it washed the hillside down to the trail and blocked the entire drainage system,” Cliff Kitner, executive director, said from Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority offices in Ebensburg. 

“We had two 36-inch pipes under the trail that were completely blocked,” he continued. “So there was 72 inches of pipe that was blocked, and the water was finding a different way down the hill.”

Some Front Street homes had basement flooding, but East Taylor Township Supervisor Rickey Price said it was not clear it was caused by the landslide. 

Homes in other areas of the township also reported water in basements, he said. 

“We lost roads underwater that never flooded before,” Price said, adding the township engineer told supervisors there was as much as three inches of rain in less than an hour on Sunday. 

Although the Mineral Point hillside water originally collected on state-owned Mineral Point Road, Price was not blaming state maintenance.

“PennDOT cleaned all the outlets and pipes this spring,” he said. “They came down today and fixed it again.”

The sheer volume of rain from Sunday’s storm, falling onto ground saturated from weeks of rainy weather brought the expected results, Price said. 

“The water table hasn’t dropped from last year,” he said. 

“Everything has no place to go.”

Price brought township equipment to assist the Conservation and Recreation Authority crews cleaning up the landslide and opening drainage pipes. 

Widespread damage

Windber Fire Department handled as many as 50 calls Sunday – many of them along 17th and Railroad streets and Jackson Avenue.

Responders were backlogged at times with residential calls, while doing their best to keep traffic moving through town, he said.

But when four-to-five inches fall over a few day’s time, “there’s not much you can do,” said Windber’s emergency management coordinator, Anson Bloom.

“What everyone has to understand, is that anytime you get that amount of rain in such a short amount of time, anything you put in place to handle it won’t be adequate – it won’t be enough,” said Bloom, who is also a deputy fire chief in town. “The stormwater is going to go where it wants to.”

Weather data backs his claim.

The National Weather Service precipitation data shows the Richland and Windber areas received a month’s worth of rain between Thursday and Sunday afternoon.

More than four inches of rain fell in the area, and according to the Cornell University-based Northeast Regional Climate Center, approximately 1.2 inches of it fell over a span of a few hours at the Johnstown-Cambria County Regional Airport. 

The Meyersdale area fared worse, recording nearly 1.5 inches, while Windber recorded 2.5 inches of rain when the same storm moved through, the National Weather Service reported.

First responders from Richland, Windber and Meyersdale all said they fielded dozens of calls over the weekend – many of them for flooded roads and basements.

Windber Borough resident Mickey McConnell was one of several residents who vented about the issues the weekend storms caused.

“I had so much water in my yard that my tractor sank,” said McConnell, who said an eight-inch-deep river of water was flowing through one side of his yard Sunday. “A neighbor had to pull it out with a truck.”

He and several neighbors said some of their issues have existed for years.

In some cases, stormwater is bypassing drains and heading straight into yards, they told council.

Windber Borough officials told residents that they have directed their EADS group engineers to look at areas hard hit by recent flooding to see if there are workable solutions and get estimates to fix them.

Realigning one Jackson Avenue drain, for example, might lessen issues in that neighborhood, Bloom said.

Outlook drier, but Gulf worth watching

Johnstown’s airport has recorded nearly 10 inches of rain since May 15 – about 25% above the average for the timespan, National Weather Service Meteorologist Craig Evanego said.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings ahead of the storm Sunday, expecting the water-logged region was going to have problems on roadways and other low-lying areas on Sunday.

“Once the ground starts having a lot of water, it’s unable to take in what it normally would. 

“And you start seeing basements and smaller streams fill up even quicker than they already do,” Evanego said.

Evanego said the next seven days will be drier, overall, although there’s a chance for storms Thursday.

The weekend is expected to be warm and sunny.

But Evanego said forecasters are keeping an eye on weather prediction models that suggest a tropical system could form in the Gulf of Mexico in the coming days. That could bring another round of significant rainfall next week, he added.

“It’s something we’re watching,” he said.

Richland eyeing changes

A crowd of more than 30 people flooded Richland Township’s boardroom Monday, venting concerns about storm-soaked yards and basements.

For Richland Township, the issue is nothing new.

The township has been dealing with stormwater flooding complaints for at least 15 years, and the supervisors spent $80,000 five years ago to document areas across the township where issues were common and set up a framework to prioritize “hot spots.”

The township has tackled smaller projects, including a portion of Cherry Lane, over the years.

But last week’s storm brought a reminder that the township has a “border-to-border” runoff issue that isn’t going away, Richland Township Supervisor Robert Heffelfinger said.

“We absolutely are going to review our options, financially, with regards to developing a stormwater mitigation plan in our township. And what it’s going to come down to is how are we going to pay for it – whether that’s a tax or a dedicated fee,” he said, projecting that the topic will “almost certainly” be factored into the 2020 budget planning.

He acknowledged the pace the township has been moving to addressing the issue is frustrating many residents, but at a potentially $20 million price tag, it’s not a simple undertaking.

Now that Pennsylvania communities are able to establish dedicated stormwater authorities, the township has long-term options that can be explored to manage the undertaking and annual repair costs, he said.

Whether it might be a dedicated tax – one mill of taxes, for example, would generate $200,000 yearly toward the effort – or a stormwater fee, there will be a financial impact, “and it won’t solve this problem overnight,” Heffelfinger said.

“It’s going to be frustrating for people because (mitigation) work could go on for 20 years. This isn’t a simple problem,” he said.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.