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Carnegie takes proactive stance to climate change

Photo by Sonja Reis

The Chartiers Creek last flooded in Carnegie on Sept. 17,  2004. In August, borough officials there adopted a Climate Action Plan to help address concerns related to future flooding.


By Bob Podurgiel

In 2004 a devastating flood struck Carnegie, inundating most of the business district with over four feet of flood water from Chartiers Creek.

Many businesses closed, never to reopen, but a few weathered the storm and became the nucleus for Carnegie’s resurgence after the flood.

One of those businesses was the 3rd Street Gallery, a venue dedicated to the fine arts located in the Irishtown section of Carnegie, bordering Chartiers Creek.

Phil Salvato, owner of the gallery, vividly remembers the devastation caused by the flood.

“I was working in the studio, painting a portrait, when I learned water was coming in the door, and it just kept coming. I tried to shut off the electrical circuits but the water was flowing all around me.”

Not only was water threatening Salvato, but the flood waters were threatening his works of art in the gallery.

“Water was flowing all around them. I lost about four paintings, but I saved some of the bigger ones,” he said.

“I had four feet of water in the gallery. A canoe came through a window and smashed into the gallery. Oh, man, it was a catastrophe. I had to replace all of the furnaces, ductwork and drywall. The floor looked like an accordion, and I lost a baby grand piano. It was awful.”

The flood was the result of 5.9 inches of rain from Hurricane Ivan dumped on the Chartiers Creek watershed on Sept. 17, 2004, on soil already saturated by previous storms.

The possibility of future floods haunts Carnegie, despite its resurgence from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which has seen the town become a center for the arts, niche retailing and restaurants.

Ways to deal with the possibility of future flooding are outlined in a Climate Action Plan recently adopted by Carnegie Borough Council in a unanimous vote taken at its August meeting.

“I think the Climate Action Plan is a great idea. The actions we take as individuals [to reduce emissions] are important, but we can amplify the effect if we come together as a community,” said Councilmember Peter Mullins, who also serves on the borough’s 14-member Climate Action Task Force.

“I am in my 30’s, and climate change will impact today’s children heavily. We are seeing the effects now.”

By adopting this plan, Carnegie’s goal is to become a climate-resilient community with a restorative impact on natural systems beyond its borders. Reduction of the borough’s carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is a big part of the plan.

Mullins said he hopes other communities will adopt Climate Action Plans, and as a newer member on council, he views his role there as a way to give back to the community.

Considering the damage to the 3rd Street Gallery space and artworks suffered in 2004, Salvato fully supports the borough’s proactive approach to mitigating the damage from possible future flooding, but notes a plan is still only words on paper.

“There’s the talk and there’s the walk,” said Salvato, who in addition to being an artist and business owner in town is a member of the borough’s planning commission.

“Everybody has got to work together to accomplish the recommendations,” he said, adding that he has a few recommendations of his own.

“We need retention ponds on the tributaries to hold back water, and we need to build up the banks of the creek in Carnegie. We have to work on the creek all the way down from Washington County. And we need to go after state, federal and county grants. I think the Climate Action Plan will help the borough in going after grants.”

Since two-thirds of the Chartiers Creek Watershed is in Washington County, what happens there has a huge impact on flooding in Allegheny County communities along Chartiers Creek.

A major reason why the Hurricane Ivan flood was so severe is that the 2004 weather system stalled over Washington County and dumped even more water into the creek than in Allegheny County, up to 8 inches of rainfall, creating a perfect storm for flooding downstream.

The Congress of Neighboring Communities, also known as CONNECT, is an organization dedicated to multi-municipal planning.

The group began working with Carnegie administration in the Spring of 2021 and helped the borough connect with ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. The group, active in more than 125 countries, provides technical consulting to local governments wanting to meet sustainability objectives. In addition to completing various assessments, the group helped Carnegie to focus its efforts and provide interns to help with the heavy lift needed to complete the plan.

Public input was gathered through surveys with residents and business owners alike weighing in on what is most important to them. Those items include a push for more solar panels, composting, recycling and EV charging stations.

The borough’s climate plan identifies future flash flooding as one of the main dangers to Carnegie as the climate continues to warm.