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Pittsburgh Says It's More Prepared If 2019 Brings More Landslides

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Spring Hill resident Randal Miller, 36, gestures to debris from the landside that damaged his home.

This past winter and spring saw record rainfall in Allegheny County, which led to an unprecedented number of landslides and extensive property damage.

The city of Pittsburgh has taken steps this year to mitigate land movement, including setting aside $6.8 million in its 2019 budget.

Karina Ricks, head of the city’s department of mobility and infrastructure, said Pittsburgh officials have been meeting regularly to discuss the issue of land movement. This has led to stricter monitoring of illegal trash dumping at the tops of hillsides, and greater consideration before permitting development at the part of a slope’s base called the toe.

“[A slope’s toes are] fairly, firmly rooted at the base of the slop, and they’re actually holding up the layer of soil as you go up the hillside,” said Ricks. “So, keeping that in place, keeping that intact, not disturbing the toe is very critical to protecting the hillside above it.”

Ricks said the city is more prepared to respond to landslides and doing more to prevent them. Improvements to Pittsburgh’s water and sewage infrastructure, and better mapping of abandoned mine facilities should help too.

But these efforts only go so far. And if there is heavy rain fall during a traditionally dry time of the year when there is also little vegetation, it’s hard to slow the flow of water.

“How we can be prepared for every eventuality, that is a concern,” she said. “We are in an unpredictable era as far as weather and climate behavior goes.”

If wet, rainy winters become the norm, homes on particularly hilly lots might become unlivable.