Hilltop communities battle weather impacts
October 30, 2018
Most Sunday mornings, members of Allentown Clean and Green can be found picking up trash, caring for young trees, and weeding along main streets in the hilltop.
By comparison, however, trash is a minor environmental concern: with this spring and summer came torrential rain, flooding, and landslides, causing unmanageable storm water run off and overflowing abandoned mines.
Nancy Lomasney, co-founder of Allentown Clean and Green, is suffering firsthand the adverse impacts of slope instability: Emerald View Park is encroaching on her home, but the process of building an expensive retaining wall is long and complicated, mired in bureaucracy and red tape, involving multiple engineers and city permits.
Several streets have been lost to or damaged by landslides, including Newton, Windom, McArdle, and Williams Street. Some of these streets remain closed long after the event, and residents have been told there is no money leftover in the capital budget to make additional repairs.
Some members of the community have become discouraged. Jess Benham, captain of the East Slopes Block Watch, noted, “We have and will continue to organize trash pick-ups and park work days – but the underlying environmental problems are too big for even the most organized communities to address.”
Roy Blankenship, Property Stabilization Program coordinator at the Hilltop Alliance, echoes this concern, citing collapsing retaining walls, landslides, and flooding as major issues in the neighborhoods.
The responsibility to address these concerns falls on local politicians, like City Council President Bruce Kraus, Councilman Anthony Coghill, and State Representatives Jake Wheatley and Harry Readshaw. Councilman Kraus’ office has been most responsive, coordinating meetings with the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and other city departments as necessary to address issues specifically along Arlington Avenue. Karina Ricks, director of DOMI, has suggested the city create additional greenways in slide-prone areas.
Senator Jay Costa introduced Senate Bill 1131, which would have allowed Pennsylvanians to obtain insurance for landslides. The bill has landed in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, where it likely will die as time runs out to pass new legislation. However, Ms. Ricks notes there has been no mechanism for state cost sharing in slide remediation, and argues municipal government has done all that it can.
“It is disappointing that Senator Costa and State Representative Readshaw have not done more to introduce legislation that would alleviate the burden on our local government,” Ms. Benham stated.
A coordinated and more comprehensive effort in the hilltop is necessary to alleviate current concerns and prevent future, worsening environmental impacts. It is not enough for our politicians to introduce legislation; they must also more thoroughly champion its passage.
“These hills are our home,” Ms. Benham said, “We shouldn’t have to worry that someday our streets will no longer exist.”
Submitted by Jessica Benham