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Federal Money May Prevent Future Landslide Damage, Won’t Fund Current Repairs

A federal grant may help municipalities in Allegheny County grapple with fallout from last year’s record rainfall and accompanying floods and landslides. However, the competition for funding is fierce, said Matt Brown, chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services.

“I don’t think that we’ll have a capacity to recover from a lot of the ... challenges that we have, but this is an opportunity that we don’t want to turn away from,” Brown said.

An August flood battered parts of eastern Pennsylvania, and the federal government issued a disaster declaration. Fifteen percent of that funding, roughly $9-10 million, can be used across the state to mitigate flood and landslide hazards, said Tom Hughes of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“We can go statewide to assist other homeowners that maybe were affected in a prior event,” he said.

The money cannot be used to address damage to public infrastructure such as roads or publicly owned hillsides, which Brown estimated to be $21 million in Allegheny County alone. Instead, the hazard mitigation funds are used to help homeowners sell homes that sit on flood plains, or elevate those homes.

Both Hughes and Brown stressed that this is not the only money available to the county. There will likely be other funding cycles officials will be able to pursue.

In the interim, the Allegheny County Landslide Task Force continues to work on prevention strategies, said Brown.

“Good land management, good planning on where we’re building structures, understanding that history of the landslides and the flooding we’ve had in the past,” he said. “Making sure we’re putting all that information together in one place, easily accessible, for these municipalities to make good decisions moving forward.”

Another winter of freeze and thaw cycles is expected again this year.