Project Elsewhere

An OPN News Editorial

A devastating flash flood occurred in August of 2016 in the Four Mile Run (The Run) neighborhood of Pittsburgh. A resident and his young son were trapped on the roof of their car by the quickly rising water and were eventually rescued by firefighters. Several cars were submerged, and many basements saw several inches of storm-water mixed with raw sewage. This was not an unusual event in The Run. Even without a severe flood, various amounts of rain bring soaked foundations, yards turned into swamps and inches of sludge on the streets. These events occur more frequently and severely with the combined effects of climate change and the irresponsible, overdevelopment of higher elevation nearby areas. Water after all, runs downhill, along with the contents of several thousand additional toilets flushing in next-door Oakland.

For years residents have suffered the traumatizing effects of severe flooding during successive city administrations. They’ve begged public officials to fix it– only to be told that there is no money to solve what is clearly a chronic public health issue. It’s been said that budgets are moral documents, but instead of budgeting for basic life saving infrastructure, city officials stubbornly choose to spend our money elsewhere.

Picture on left is from the 2009-75 year flood. Picture on right is from the 2016-25 year flood.

When it comes to private development projects though, city officials always have a blank check at the ready. Throwing millions at privateers will supposedly solve all of our problems– and money will trickle down like rain. But for years, residents of The Run have only been soaked with excuses from officials and even more heavy rain. The neglect exponentially rises to the level of abuse with every flood.

The private development roadway project dubbed the Mon-Oakland Mobility Plan/Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) is just such a project, and it’s origins go back to at least the year 2000. City officials met behind closed doors with Oakland’s two largest universities, PITT and CMU, and struck a deal– the public was to pay for a shuttle roadway from Oakland campuses and through the Junction Hollow portion of Schenley Park; then on to the Hazelwood Green development site. One of the neighborhoods in the direct path is The Run, and residents were kept in the dark about the plan for years.

When announced as a done deal through a news article in August of 2015, Run residents staged a revolt. They demanded that city officials fix the problem of desperately needed flood relief, and adamantly rejected a roadway through their community. Within a few months came the 2016 flood, and the city was dripping wet with embarrassment. News reports, including photos and video of the damage, finally revealed to the public the chronic neglect caused by the city’s practice of spending unsparing amounts of money for corporate welfare deals, but nearly nothing for basic life saving infrastructure.

Although the city was caught with it’s waders down, officials told residents they’d have to produce a comprehensive survey showing that flooding is an issue in order to secure the money to fix it. Afterwards, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) entered the story with it’s own troubled history, announcing that $40 million was acquired to fix the problem. But as predictable as the next flood, folks were told the storm-water mitigation work would include the community erasing MOC.

The 4 Mile Run Stormwater project is complicated, and to include an approximately ½ mile long (39,600 sq ft) impervious surface that eliminates a great deal of old-growth tree canopy from the next door park (officials confirmed at least 900 trees) would most likely harm flood control. That amount of paving would generate about 295,000 gallons of runoff. Every 1 acre of impervious surface generates about 27,000 gallons of runoff for each 1 inch of rain and Pittsburgh has seen a range from around 36″- 60” of rain over the last 10 years.

After the initial presentation of the plan, multiple engineering experts approached residents, affirming that adding the roadway could harm flood control, and most importantly, revealing that the overall plan would not sufficiently address The Run’s flooding. The majority of flooding comes from the other end of the Watershed–Sq Hill/Greenfield–and not the Oakland/Schenley Park end, where the main leg of the proposed MOC project would be.

The Run has experienced periodic 25, and even 75 yr floods as well as regular 10 yr events within the last 15 years, In 2009, a 75 year event caused some residents basements to fill with 70+ inches of water and sewage. But on June 18th, 2020 the PWSA revealed that their flood mitigation project is designed for a 10 yr flood event. The water/sewage mix of a 75 year flood event would be reduced by 45% with a 10 year flood event plan according to a PWSA official at a September 15th meeting. That would still leave approximately 38+ inches of water and sewage in resident basements. PWSA officials are claiming this is acceptable, but residents would still continue the on-going task of decontaminating their homes and replacing their furnaces, hot water tanks and washers and dryers out-of-pocket, due to an inadequate plan and their inability to acquire flood insurance.

Documents acquired through RTK requests show that the Mayor’s office and their private partners concerns are not with the plight of residents- but elsewhere. Meeting minutes dated February 22, 2019 show Mayor Chief of Staff Dan Gilman saying that the messaging to residents must be improved because residents– “Have an expectation that this project will eliminate their flooding” He also described the overall project “A clusterf@$k.” Rather than focus the $40 million dollars on the actual life threatening chronic problem, the city and private partners are more concerned with “messaging” and driving the project to force the inclusion of an unwanted, non-essential and publicly subsidized private development roadway through The Run. The solution-looking-for-a-problem MOC project will also drain an additional $23 million dollars from our city capital budget instead of much-needed infrastructure and real transportation solutions.

The economic effects of the Coronavirus on Pittsburgh prompted the Mayor’s recent announcement of a projected $115 million dollar deficit this year, and an admission that major development projects would have to be delayed by years. Logic dictates, and morality demands, that all of the above reasons should be proof enough to scrap the MOC, and shift a good bit of the $40 million dollars to the other end of the watershed to effectively address the majority cause of chronic flooding.

Residents of The Run and their growing coalition of allies continue to push-back against the rising waters and the corrupt practices of private interests who wish to construct yet another publicly subsidized private development project that benefits only a handful of insiders. Eventually, Run residents may build an Ark and sail it to City Hall to force accountability; perhaps in time for the May 2021 primary election, where city residents can send Mayor Peduto elsewhere.

For more information:

If you would like to support residents in The Run- contact city officials and demand they fix the flooding and redirect taxpayer money to responsible infrastructure/transportation solutions.

Mayor William Peduto- 412-255-2626

PWSA- 412-255-2423

District 5 Councilman Corey O’Connor- 412-255-8965