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DEP Options for Glenside Flood Control Get Mostly Positive Reviews; Decisions Lie Ahead

With a design presentation Wednesday night by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the long stalled Glenside Flood Control Project breathes new life.

DEP project engineer Mark Malach laid out three alternative designs at the Public Works Committee meeting, all of which included replacement of a culvert just downstream of Glenside Avenue and construction of a smaller one alongside it. The Brookdale Avenue levee also would be raised by three feet.

Before the approximately $4 million state funded project can move ahead, some tough decisions will have to be settled on. In addition to the culverts and the raised levee, DEP proposes constructing two of three possible retention ponds in the Glenside area of the Tookany Watershed to hold water and ease the storm flow downstream. Alternative 1 includes constructing ponds on the site of the Mack Electric buildings at North and Paxson Avenues and at the existing bus parking lot at Rices Mill Road and Glenside Avenue. Because it raises floodwater elevations upstream of Rices Mill Road, demolition or protection of at least one home is required.

Alternatives 2 and 3 involve establishing ponds at the same bus parking lot along with one at the Renninger Park athletic fields along Keswick Avenue. The difference between the two alternatives is that No.3 requires demolition or protection of at least one home and flood protection provided for Mack Electric.

Regardless of the alternative selected, DEP analysis indicates the project will provide flood protection for up to 500-year storm events, or all but .2 percent of storms.

Robert Hyslop of Harrison Avenue, a longtime critic of township flood control efforts, called that level of protection “fantastic.” He told Citizens’ Call that in general, he was “pretty positive.” The plan “doesn’t hurt anybody and helps some,” he said. “It’s exactly what we’ve been asking about formally since (Tropical Storm) Allison . . . This is great news I think for the Glenside area. And it has to be great news for downstream because it means less that we’re going to pass to them.”

But Tom McHugh of Wyncote was not so impressed with the 500-year storm flow standard. “We’re going to get hit with a 500-year storm any month or year now. We may need all three alternatives. It depends on what Abington and Jenkintown do.” McHugh conceded, “It’s a start,” but was skeptical that projects not integrated into a watershed-wide strategy could have the necessary effect on flood control.

“It’s a good start, I do hope the project goes through,” said Deb McGlade, who has weathered more storms and floods at her Brookdale Avenue home than she cares to remember. “I was a little surprised that it didn’t address more of the upstream like Bickley anhd Harrison – I would think all of Glenside . . . It’s a small step that gives residents of the township hope that this is finally being taken seriously and that future flood control projects will go forward.”

For Bickley Road, one of the areas hit hard by Irene, the project is not expected to offer significant relief, according to the DEP’s Malach. “Why doesn’t the plan include Bickley?” demanded to know Nicole Vangen of Bickley Road Wednesday night. She said she had photos of a flooded Bickley Road from as far back as 1946.

Board President Art Haywood, whose Ward Two district includes Bickley, responded, saying the decision that was made last fall “was to move as quickly as we could to move forward with what was available.” He said that the next step is to consider the study by the Army Corps of Engineers for a broader look at project possibilities.

Bickley was not in the original study done more than 10 years ago, Malach told Citizens’ Call. He saw his mission as to generally follow the original study parameters. “Noone ever told me to come look at Bickley. I probably would’ve said it could be another separate project. I was never alerted to it, it was never part of my focus.

Could the project include Bickley? “I don’t know if it could. I don’t know what the problem really is or what the solution is, but would be more than happy to come look at it and think about it some. But everybody wants us to move on this and when you expand the scope, you’re going to slow things down. I don’t know that we can expand the scope. We have these acts (of the legislature) that determine what we can be doing. We’ve got to be careful that we’re spending people’s money on what we’re supposed to be spending it on. I don’t even know if we have enough money to do it.”

According to Malach, “At the end of the day, it only takes one alternative to solve the problem,” and any of the alternatives will work. He did say that the second one, ponding the bus parking lot and Renninger Park without flood protection for Mack Electric, reduces flood levels the most, but only by about a half-foot at 500-year flood levels. (Lee was a 200- year rainfall, but what made it worse was that Hurricane Irene soaked the ground just prior to Lee’s rampage.)

The design decision, however, will probably hinge not on relatively cut-and-dried issues of flood levels but on more dicey questions such as the extent to which ponding Renninger Park will undermine its value as a play area, especially when ballfields are already at a premium. Or how property values of homes near any of the new ponds will be affected.

While the cost of the flood control improvements as currently envisioned should be covered fully by the $4 million in state funds, the cost of any takings of property, such as the Mack Electric Building at North and Paxson, the parking lot at the corner of Rices Mill and Glenside Avenue or the first house on Rices Mill Road south of Brookdale Avenue (the latter due to the resulting elevated flood water levels upstream) will be born by the township. And the price tag could be considerable enough to affect the final decision.

Township Manager David Kraynik told Citizens’ Call that he was pleased but surprised at the $4 million total, considering that $3 million was the original state authorization for the project. Malach of DEP explained that the need to replace the existing box culvert just downstream of Glenside Avenue required the additional funds accessed through PA Act 83 of 2006.

“I think DEP has come up with very worthwhile designs that need to be thoroughly considered, and I’m optimistic that we will be able to come to an agreement on one and make it a reality. We need to go from idea to reality as soon as possible. And we need to evaluate alternatives – not only from a cost standpoint but from an effectiveness standpoint – and I hope we can do that soon and get it moving. But we’re definitely going in the right direction.” Kraynik said that the township’s engineer, Pat Duffy, was in agreement with DEP that any of the three alternatives were viable.

In terms of the project timeline, Kraynik agreed with Malach that getting the project to bid by the summer of 2013 was ambitious but doable. He also registered concern that property appraisals are likely to take more than a month and not be ready by the next Public Works meeting, which was the target date for assessing costs pressed for by Haywood. Malach said on Wednesday night that while he had never seen a project move at the pace indicated by the schedule, “it can happen, but a lot of things have to go right.”

Kraynik also said that he had had “very preliminary” conversations with the three property owners involved in the possible takings based on the DEP design options and that all three, rather than threatening legal action, which could cause major delays, sounded open to the possibility.

Asked how his departure by the end of the month for his new position in Upper Merion would affect the flood project, he said he saw no negative impact at all. Not with a capable engineering staff and an experienced public works department along with Acting Township Manager Bryan Havir guiding the process.

In an emailed statement, Ward One Commissioner Drew Sharkey, whose district includes most of Glenside, said, “I am cautiously optimistic that we are nearing a final design that will provide much needed flood protection to portions of Glenside. We will work closely with state officials to move this project along quickly. It has been stalled for far too long. I am sure the long suffering residents of Brookdale Avenue are anxious to see this project come to fruition.”

Deb Forman of Widener Road suggested at the meeting that a budget for monitoring storm flow data be established to use the data to inform the computer modeling that is the basis of the project options. She said that weather changes are so dynamic that data over the next year could be a major asset for the underlying analysis. She said she was “encouraged and cautiously optimistic” by the DEP presentation, taking note that “the project only addresses a small portion if our watershed.” Forman is counting on the study by the Army Corps of Engineers to identify key projects both within and outside Cheltenham Township.

A series of written questions on flood control issues was submitted to the township by the “Floodside” alliance of residents.

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  1. cathy abbott

    Quick free lesson in rain barrels. A rain barrel has limited capacity. Each may hold up to 50 gallons.

    There are 22,000 gallons of water in an acre… per inch of rain… per acre! There are 5,800 acres in Cheltenham. (The equivalent of 2.5 million rain barrels)

    It is merely a drought mitigation technique that happens to have small environmental benefits. It is cheaper and friendlier alternative than a sprinkler system which is a homeowner’s waste of $2,000 a year in water and sewer costs. Besides that benefit, It may help slow down the rain but it won’t reverse a trend. If every sprinkler system were phaased out and rain barrels were installed, it would be big news to feel good about… until the next flood. it is not a watershed wide flood solution that you are looking for.

  2. Nicole Vangen

    Just because one man is happy about the proposed solutions doesn’t mean the rest of us are happy.

    Renninger Park – may not be used as a dumping ground for Springfield and Abington Township. To even propose that idea is insane.

    These aren’t solutions these are just band-aids. Expensive band-aids. I could see using some of that money educating the township, its employees and residents. Rain barrels, low flow toilets — how about NO NEW DEVELOPMENT!!!

    Malach found a place to retain the water – and our baseball fields and playground won’t be one of them.

    Why isn’t there more outrage. Brookdale isn’t going to get peace anytime soon – 2013 isn’t soon enough.

    We need a better way to solve the flooding and sewage issues in Cheltenham.

    • cathy abbott

      I attended one of the “free” rainbarrel information sessions sponsored by the montgomery county taxpayers 10 yrs ago. They touted the resourcefulness and usefulness of a basin that completely fills after merely a third of an inch of rain. (1/3″)

      Without question you have a good intention. Everyone should conserve water and put it back to good use where they can. But mitigate flooding? Wouldn’t you want to research a claim like that before making it your MO that we all need to become more educated?

      • Tom McHugh

        Lucky for us some of Cheltenham Township is wooded. Natural areas like forest produce only 2.5% of the stormwater runoff compared to developed surfaces like streets, sidewalks, parking lots and roofs. The rain barrels can only capture water from downspouts. Flooding is all about timing as much as it is about volume of water. Some flooding destruction is caused by just an extra few inches of floodwater at the edge of a stream. One acre one inch deep represents 27,152 gallons, but how much of that stormwater races to the creek and how much is absorbed by the soil? It is the stormwater runoff that sets the high water mark for flooding. If every house could just capture the first 50 gallons of rain from a portion of their roof it would be the equivalent of almost four or five acre feet of flooding prevented in lower Cheltenham Township. Compare that to the 63 acre feet pond that flooded the Brookdale Road area in June 2001 when TS Allison hit. Rain barrels alone are not enough, but every little bit helps, especially for the residents in Elkins Park that were flooded with just a couple of inches of stormwater mixed with sewage.

        Assuming that existing development cannot be reversed, detention basins are required not only in Cheltenham Township, but in Jenkintown and Abington’s Keswick Village and Baeder Run areas as well.