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Posted 8/8/2014

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By Carol E. Davis

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (Aug. 8, 2014) – The simple act of putting pen to paper sealed the deal on a new partnership between two public agencies.

 While other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts have performed planning assistance for states in their regions, the agreement signed, Aug. 6, by Col. Bernard Lindstrom, Pittsburgh District commander, and James Hassinger, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission executive director, is a first for the district.

“This is precedential for the district,” Lindstrom said. “We need three things to be successful, technical expertise, passion and a resource engine. We have the expertise and the passion, and this partnership gives us the resource engine to do good things for the Pennsylvania communities.”

The study areas are located in two municipalities and townships in southwestern Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Borough and Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County, and Blairsville Borough and Burrell Township in Indiana Country. Each one of these communities is served by different rivers and streams in the upper Ohio River watershed, and each has a history of flooding issues.

Floods are the most common severe weather emergency in these regions of Pennsylvania.

While heavy rain is the principal trigger of a flood event, other factors such as backed-up storm drains and problematic or aging infrastructure can exacerbate the damage. The hilly terrain of the region combined with aging municipal culverts and low-lying bridges can also contribute to flash flooding events in the communities.

John Peukert, the district’s Planning and Environmental Branch chief, said the study is a pilot program for the 10 counties that the SPC covers.

“We want to see if this pilot works,” Peukert said. “If it works, then it can potentially be replicated by other communities in the region to reduce flooding and to prioritize infrastructure investment.”

The study sanctioned under the Water Resources Development Act of 1972 authorizes the district to assist the state in the preparation of comprehensive plans for the development, utilization and conservation of water and water-related resources such as drainage basins, watersheds or ecosystems with the state.

Through this cost-sharing agreement, the district will be able to provide township decision-makers with a tool to identify problem infrastructure within their regions, so they might best allocate improvement dollars.

The primary goal of this 12-month study, which has a 50-50 cost split between federal and non-federal agencies, is to compile an inventory of culverts, bridges and other potentially troublesome infrastructures within the study area.  Additionally, it will gather information about the topography of southwestern Pennsylvania and municipal storm water systems, and to perform a hydraulic analysis to illustrate a storms effect on water conveyance systems.

Erin Kepple, a SPC water resources manager, said, “We are very excited to be working with the Corps on this study. The pilot program will benefit the counties covered in the study for years to come and hopefully other communities in the future.”

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