Fatal Flooding Settlement Goes To Council For Approval

Sep 14, 2015

In August 2011, heavy rains triggered a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in the Highland Park neighborhood, killing four. Kimberly Griffith, 46, and her two daughters, Breanna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, died as the water rose above their car roof. Mary Saflin, 72, was swept away by rising water. City Council is expected Tuesday to approve a settlement for the victims' estates.

The payments total $375,000 for the two families. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority reached a settlement with the families in July 2014.

Within four months of the fatal flooding,  the city and PennDOT had taken measures to prevent a repeat.

“We worked with the city to install a gate system, basically, that closes the road in the event of any type of major flooding,” said Dan Cessna, PennDOT District 11 executive.  

This system activates when sensors detect high levels of water on the road. The gates close automatically but must be opened manually by a technician. 

Hundreds of city first responders were also trained for flood rescue on the ground.

But a systemic solution is needed to prevent street flooding, according to Pittsburgh Councilman Dan Gilman, who says preventative measures are needed for neighborhoods where impervious surfaces and sewer back-up causes rapid flooding.

“We need to address the problem at heart. And I think that will be done as part of the overall combined sewer overflow (CSO) solution."

Many communities still have a combined sewer using a single pipe that carries wastewater and storm water runoff in the same system. New sewer systems will separate these two flows, reducing backup in storm water pipes and preventing contaminated runoff from going untreated into open streams

In an aging city like Pittsburgh, these fixes are a tall task, says Gilman: “We’re trying to tick these projects off one-by-one but we’re decades behind in infrastructure to do it and there aren’t the dollars to address every situation.”

Under a 2008 federal consent decree, ALCOSAN must implement a $2 billion fix to eliminate the CSO problem.