Meadville Tribune

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June 28, 2013

Heavy rains lead to damage; debris clogs drains

MEADVILLE — Heavy rainfall on Thursday led to flooding, road closures and manhole covers popping off storm sewers due to the heavy flow of water, but Meadville police reported no injuries related to the flooding, according to Tom Liscinski, assistant chief.

Route 102 in Vernon Township closed on Thursday, but it reopened later in the day, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

In Conneaut Township, Wheeler Road closed between Airport Road and Linesville Road after a culvert washed out, according to the Crawford County Office of Emergency Services. No information was received about the Wheeler Road reopening.

Recent storms have also knocked out the phone lines at the Academy Theatre, which is preparing for its final weekend of the show “Spamalot.” Theatre officials are hopeful that the phone issue will be resolved sometime today, but in the meantime, those interested in acquiring tickets may purchase them online or by visiting the box office at 275 Chestnut St., Meadville.

The Academy Theatre said that those who are disappointed by the added fees for purchasing tickets online but still choose to buy them that way will be refunded the fees until the phones are back up and running.

Even as the storm calmed a bit late Thursday night, the National Weather Service warns that the potential for flooding remains elevated through the middle of next week.

Blame the water that exploded through manhole covers and covered substantial portions of the downtown Meadville landscape Thursday morning — a lot of it, anyway — on Neason Run.

When rain comes down as fast and hard as it did Thursday morning onto ground already saturated from previous rains, it just doesn’t have a lot of places to go, City Manager Joe Chriest said late Thursday afternoon. And, he added, if the upper reaches of even a small watershed like Neason Run’s — which starts high above the City of Meadville in West Mead Township above Morgan Street — have a lot of development, then you have a lot of runoff.

Small, steep watersheds like Neason Run, he added, are always what are being talked about when the words “flash flooding” enter the conversation.

Thursday morning, all that stormwater runoff didn’t quite make it into French Creek, where it would have continued along its normal journey to the Allegheny River.

Under normal circumstances, the runoff would have poured into the Neason Run Culvert, sometimes referred to as the Pine Alley Tube. One of Meadville’s three concrete box culverts — massive, open-ended structures capable of bearing the weight of vehicle traffic — the Neason Run culvert runs 3,800 feet, almost three-quarters of a mile, under Pine Alley from Grove Street to Willow Place. It consists of a series of 3-by-4-foot and 6-by-7-foot four-sided concrete “boxes” laid end to end.

The culvert dates back to 1922, when a concrete tube 2,200 feet long was built down Pine Alley between Chancery Lane and Mill Run, which it enters near the French Creek Parkway. In 1936, the installation of a similar tube extended the culvert from Chancery Lane to Grove Street when Pine Alley was opened to traffic.

Until the level of water goes down and the culvert can be more carefully examined, the jury’s still out on exactly what happened.

Thursday morning, however, Mill Run was high, leaving Neason Run with no place to go, and debris backed up in the Neason Run Culvert itself made things even worse.

By late morning, a city street crew had identified an area of potential blockage, removed the concrete top of the culvert near Pine Alley’s intersection with Market Street and was scooping out accumulated tree limbs, rocks and debris. Numerous other sections of Pine Alley above Market Street also had been damaged by the pressure of blocked water surging upward.

Other city workers were making the rounds of the city’s stormwater system, clearing debris away from inlets, sweeping up mud and silt accumulated along the roadway and preparing for the next downpour.

As for the overall condition of the damaged culvert, “almost the whole culvert is left from the 1920s and 1930s,” Chriest said, noting that during the 21 years he’s been with the city, “we’ve done some spot repairs — but haven’t done much more than that.”

And that, he added, is exactly why the city began the process that culminated in late 2012 with the passage of a comprehensive stormwater management program and implementation of a stormwater fee to help cover the cost of maintaining a massive, rapidly-aging system.

“We just didn’t have enough funds to keep up with maintenance,” Chriest said Thursday. “We have 30 miles of underground pipe — and thousands of stormwater structures that go with them.”

Upgrading the city’s stormwater system won’t happen overnight, Chriest warned. However, since the first stormwater fees started flowing into city coffers last year, city workers have accomplished quite a bit. New equipment has been purchased, for example, a number of new storm water basins are already in place, work on even more is scheduled to start in mid-July and several individual complaints have already been dealt with.

“Right now, this is going to allow us to identify additional problems — and see what happens with things we’ve already done,” Chriest said, noting that Assistant City Manager Andy Walker had already received a phone call from a city resident who identified some problems with stormwater backups. “We were able to get in and perform some maintenance,” Chriest said. “He called Andy to say ‘Thanks’ because he didn’t have problems today.”

As for today, the city’s streets crews will be working at full force, Chriest said, even though they’ve already switched over to their summer schedule of four 10-hour workdays and Fridays off.

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