There’s no need to check your calendar.
Hundred-year floods have become an annual calamity in the city of Uniontown.
“We’ve had three 100-year (flood) storms in two years,” Phil Mahoney, the city’s public works director, told city council at its monthly meeting. “It’s unheard of, so there’s definitely a change in the climate.”
Uniontown is still regrouping after flash flooding devastated parts of the city and South Union Township on July 21, with rainfall amounts easily exceeding four inches in the most unlucky areas.
Mahoney reported that homes along Union Street and surrounding roads “really got damaged pretty good.”
“It isn’t a matter of six inches, it’s a matter of six feet with some of these houses,” Mahoney said, noting that he was in several homes where water reached up into the rafters of basements.
There are still trees down due to the flood behind the Uniontown Public Library and on Miller Avenue, Mahoney added.
“We’re going to contract out and get guys (to take care of that because) they’re too big for our crew to cut,” Mahoney said.
The city fire department remains down a fire truck after one of its trucks got stuck in the flood while responding to a call on North Beeson Boulevard, with the department taking a hit of around $60,000, Uniontown fire Chief Dane “Buck” Griffith said.
“It was $37,000 for the engine, $22,000 for the generator,” Griffith said. “ … So we’re depending every day on a fire truck that’s 42 years old.”
Griffith added that the fire truck still runs well, but not running so well is the surface of the Rotary Walk, as water damages created several large cavities in the walk and resulted in an exposed rail line at its intersection with West Berkeley Street.
Uniontown Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Mark Rafail said the city had performed some emergency filling on the walk and would add gravel to other areas along the walk that need it, including graveling over the rail line at West Berkeley Street for now.
Members of the Rotary Walk Authority board will survey remaining damages and then talk with city and South Union officials to see how they can help since the walk runs through both municipalities, while also reaching out to community members to see if they can donate materials or manpower, said Rafail, who is a member of the Rotary Walk Authority.
“We’re going to make the walk a better walk,” said Rafail.
Griffith told city council that his department responded to 50 alarms between 6:30 p.m. that Sunday evening and 3 a.m. before starting to hose streets down at 6:30 a.m., starting at the Grant Street basketball courts, which council member Joby Palumbo said were flooded for a third straight year after not being flooded at all in the previous decade.
“It’s become the new norm,” Palumbo said.
Two major floods hit downtown Uniontown in a 13-month span in 2016 and 2017, and an EF1 tornado ravaged parts of the city and North Union Township in February 2018.
Uniontown’s new normal has left city officials scouring their options to protect city residents.
Mahoney noted that homes along Union Street and Derrick Avenue and in the Craig Meadows neighborhood consistently get the most water in their basements and suggested that the city consider purchasing and demolishing roughly six homes in the area.
Observing that sewer lines in the area are inadequate, Mahoney further suggested that the city consider a study to look at the area.
Flood planning even seeped into a public hearing that Rafail conducted prior to council’s meeting Tuesday to receive comments about needs that the city’s designated 2019 Community Development Block Grant funding could address, as Rafail noted a request from Griffith for three submersible pumps and appropriate hardware in response to the city’s frequent flooding.
K2 Engineering project manager Brian Lake said that a Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System (HEC-RAS) study of Redstone Creek and Coal Lick Run would likely be finished in the next several weeks.
“(That) will show us where problem areas are and where it’s most beneficial to remedy the problems,” Lake said.
Funded by a $162,000 state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) grant awarded in November 2017, the study follows a volunteer mitigation effort in September 2017 in which several dozen volunteers hauled TVs, tires and other debris out of Redstone Creek.
“Areas along Union Street there, they’re not going to benefit a whole lot from the study we’re doing now because it has to do with the Redstone (Creek),” Lake said. “It’s going to help a lot of areas, but not those areas.”
The U.S. Geological Survey uses the term “100-year-flood” to indicate that a flood of that magnitude has a 1% chance of happening in any year.
But Uniontown city officials have been through enough intense flooding recently to know they can’t take that chance as they look ahead to the future.