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Pittsburgh Wants To Build A $1 Million Landslide 'Toolbox'

Keith Srakocic
A landslide in the Duquesne Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh destroyed a house. The February slide is one of more than a dozen slides in the area this year.

Pittsburgh’s unusually rough winter and spring—rapid freeze-thaw cycles paired with record-level rains—led to more than a dozen landslides. Various city agencies, including the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and the Department of Public Works responded, gathering information about Pittsburgh’s hillside geology in the process.

“However, that information right now resides in many different pockets and is not really being aggregated into a single place where we can really use that,” said Karina Ricks, director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

On Friday, Ricks' agency and the Departments of Public Works, City Planning and Permits, Licenses and Inspections applied for a $500,000 grant to create and implement the Landslide Disaster Prevention and Mitigation plan.

The plan is meant to do three things: build a database of information about landslides in the city; create design guidelines for those standard interventions on slides as they begin; and, if there’s money left over, pay for conceptual drawings to remediate the slides that happened this year.

Ricks said it’s less of a plan and more of a toolbox of strategies to monitor, prevent and deal with landslides.

“It’s difficult to have a plan for slides, because we have so many different soil conditions throughout the city, different topographies,” she said. “It’s very difficult to predict that a slide is going to happen and when it’s going to happen.”

She said there are common factors at work: soil composition, intense weather, poor stormwater management and pressure on the hillsides resulting from the presence of roads, buildings or even illegal dumping. Taking all of those into account, Ricks said the city wants to know right away what strategies are viable, such as diverting water off the slope or building a retaining wall.

The grant money would come from the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County through the Gaming Economic Development fund. With a required match of city funds, the grant would provide $1 million to create the toolbox.

If awarded, the money would allow the city to contract for specialty expertise and design help. However, Ricks said the agencies will undertake the work even without the outside funding; it will just take longer.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.