Water erupts from a man hole during a storm surge in Four Mile Run in September 2017. (Photo courtesy of Thomas D'Andrea)
Water erupts from a man hole during a storm surge in Four Mile Run in September 2017. (Photo courtesy of Thomas D'Andrea)

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The plan to reduce flooding in The Run area of Greenfield has gotten a lot less green.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority‘s new plan foregoes green infrastructure in favor of installing stormwater lines. The issue is critical because residents have experienced flooded basements for years as development uphill has caused more water to run into the combined sewer system.

The Run, which is located at the end of Four Mile Run, is essentially the bottom of the bowl formed by Greenfield, Oakland and Squirrel Hill. Water also runs off from the Parkway East, which was built over the neighborhood.

In heavy rain, the water pressure in the sewers is so high that manhole covers blow off the sewers. Geysers of sewage then flood basements.

Existing trunk lines that convey sewage from Oakland and Squirrel Hill cross through the neighborhood. One is 12 feet in diameter, another has a diameter of seven feet, but neither is big enough to handle what is coming downstream.

The new plan is to install storm sewers along Acorn, Alexis, Boundary and Saline streets, Four Mile Run Road and the railroad right of way. Those storm sewers would catch the water that is coming from the stream called Four Mile Run and off the streets of the neighborhood. The new storm sewer lines would range in size from three feet in diameter where they start to five feet as they run to the Monongahela River.

The latest plan to alleviate flooding in The Run calls for installing large stormwater pipes that would divert water directly into the Monongahela River. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

It is a far different plan than the one the authority presented to the neighbors in 2017. That’s when it proposed dredging Panther Hollow Lake and installing a system that would lower the lake level before a storm so that the lake could act as a reservoir for stormwater. The lake would drain into a pipe under the railroad tracks and out to the river.

That original proposal also called for opening up Four Mile Run, a process called “restreaming,” so that it could run through the park and then through a culvert to the Monongahela River.

The work was also going to include cutting back the vegetation that is overgrowing Junction Hollow and installing water retention boxes under the soccer field to hold stormwater.

That original plan also included the Mon-Oakland Connector, a road for electric bikes and scooters and a private shuttle connecting Carnegie Mellon University and Hazelwood Green. (After neighborhood protests, the route was expanded to include Second Avenue in Hazelwood).

The plan, including the road, had been submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP], but was resubmitted after Mayor Ed Gainey, in response to years of community protests, canceled the shuttle road.

Now, the restreaming of Four Mile Run and the dredging of Panther Hollow Lake, with the spillway running under the railroad tracks to the stream, also are out of the plan. 

“DEP’s review proved really difficult and it is not their fault,” says Tony Igwe, stormwater manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Between the DEP review, and the difficulty obtaining permission to work within the railroad right of way, Igwe says the decision was made to cut those aspects out of the plan and instead just install stormwater pipes to catch the runoff and pipe it to the river. 

The original plan would have had construction starting in 2022. Now, Igwe says the review could take another year, with construction starting after that.

Laura Vincent, who owns two properties in The Run, says she has waterproofed her basements, sealing off doors from outside, lining the walls with rubber, sealing up the window and installing backflow valves so the sewers cannot back up.

“I’ve been waiting for solutions, but honestly, not very much has happened. I have been waiting and I trusted people,” Vincent said. “Help. When is this going to happen?”

Four Mile Run project budget data from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s Four Mile Run design and project update.

Another reason that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority cut out the green infrastructure solutions is that the pipe for the water to the river, as it was designed, would have meant moving a 50-inch water main at a time when the authority is in the middle of a $470 million water reliability plan. 

Igwe said green infrastructure is not cost-effective when the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority is planning to build huge holding tanks under the rivers to capture stormwater.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s $42.65 million budget for the project has not been revised, despite removing the $9 million portion to move the waterline and the $4.5 million to dredge the lake and open the stream. 

Pittsburgh City Councilperson Barb Warwick, whose first political activism was challenging the Mon-Oakland Connector, said, “We need the solution in the ground, that is what this is. That is what can be done sooner than later. Now, this is the get’er-done solution so that we don’t have sewage blowing off manhole covers. Get this fixed. Get past the awful flooding we have here.”

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh’s East End communities.

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Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities.