COATESVILLE — Despite the devastation caused by Ida in early September 2021, the City of Coatesville has yet to receive federal disaster funds to replace century-old stormwater infrastructure.
Council President Linda Lavender-Norris visited the heart of the city at Fifth Avenue and Olive Street on Aug. 19.
'People need help here,' Lavender-Norris said.
'The Army Corps of Engineers has not been to the City of Coatesville. FEMA and PEMA were out last September to assess residential and commercial damages,' said Coatesville City Manager James Logan on Aug. 8. 'We are working with each agency to determine and identify any funding assistance for damages to municipal property and infrastructure,' Logan said. 'Thus far, their attention has been focused on the hundreds of residents that had to evacuate or were forced to leave their homes and rental property due to the storm.'
Coatesville has yet to receive money from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November, Lavender-Norris said. Further, the city hasn't received disaster funds from FEMA following forms filled out during the aftermath of the storm.
That means the city's stormwater system hasn't been updated to prevent another flood from the next disastrous hurricane or tropical storm.
'As bad as this feels, we have so much hope and potential,' Lavender-Norris said of Coatesville.
And while the city is undergoing a renaissance, with angel investors helping to transform vacant historic landmarks, on Lincoln and elsewhere, into vibrant businesses and luxury apartments, Lavender-Norris said she would like to see the revitalization happen with the people and then the buildings, or with the people while the buildings are be revitalized. 'I don't want to see people pushed out,' she said. 'I love this city. I love the people here.'
Coatesville Council Member Charrisse Allen, left, and City Council President Linda Lavender-Norris attend a special event to highlight revitalization progress at the Coatesville Station on August 24. Behind them stand the governor of Pennsylvania and White House officials among other dignitaries. (JEN SAMUEL – DAILY LOCAL NEWS)
There is much support for the City of Coatesville's transformation, including at the state and county levels. Still, the stormwater infrastructure remains unchanged following Ida's wrath and devastation.
'We appreciate everything they've done, and we've achieved with all their help,' said Lavender-Norris while standing on Fifth Avenue under the summer sunlight, with locals driving by and greeting her with warm tidings.
Coatesville is a city built in a valley, and when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the community on Sept. 1, 2021, as a tropical storm, the overpowering rainfall swiftly toppled the local nearby streams uphill, flooding the water down to Olive Street, and elsewhere, from Fifth, as the sun began to set. By the time night fell, first responders were already acting in haste to evacuate people from their homes as quickly as possible, throughout the region and in the City of Coatesville, into emergency shelters.
Chester County Commissioners approved a Declaration of Disaster Emergency because of Ida. The county's 911 Communication Center processed more than 4,000 calls, resulting in more than 300 storm-related rescues in a 10-hour time frame during Tropical Storm Ida.
Pennsylvania will receive $1.6 billion for bridge improvements, including for off-system bridges, over the next five years from the new federal act, as previously reported. Additional money en route to Pennsylvania for infrastructure investments includes funds set for $11.3 billion for the federal highway program; $2.8 billion for public transportation; $1.4 billion for water infrastructure.
Pennsylvania, home to more than 25,400 state-owned bridges, features 83,184 miles of streams and rivers, more than 4,000 lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and 120 miles of coastal waters, according to Penn State University.
Only one state in America has more water than Pennsylvania: Alaska. Located 39 miles west of Philadelphia, 13,350 people live in the City of Coatesville.
In Coatesville, the 100-year-old infrastructure there compounded the impact of Ida on the community.
'There is no way it couldn't flood and that's why the infrastructure is so important,' Lavender-Norris said.
As the floodwaters poured from a city creek down Fifth and Sixth avenues, and elsewhere, the valley flooded. The water then surged, moving out along the Brandywine Creek to other communities in Chester County and into Delaware County, where the entire village of Chadds Ford was eventually flooded by the time the clock struck midnight on Sept. 2.
At Fifth and Sixth avenues and Olive Street, the floodwaters reached as high as stop octagons and street signs — up to 10 feet, Lavender-Norris reflected on in August.
'This was ground zero,' she added.
For the most part, Hurricane Ida delivered up to seven feet of flood water over six hours that damaged more than 60 homes and rental properties, as previously reported. The water peaked at 10 feet at Fifth and Olive in Coatesville.
Nearly one-year ago, 100 families became displaced from their homes in the City of Coatesville as rainfall from Ida caused historic floodwaters engulfed both residential and commercial buildings.
And nearly all the people displaced were renters.
Lavender-Norris said some remained were still displaced, as of this past summer.
'The city has not received any direct funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but it is my understanding that there are several grant opportunities and areas where a portion of the $1.2 trillion dollars will likely trickle down, giving way to helping cities like Coatesville,' said Logan, the city manager, in August.
'We hope to address the need to replace and or repair the aging and inadequate stormwater infrastructure that has plagued the city for decades,' Logan said.
'The stormwater system and network of pipes require much-needed upgrades in order to ensure reliability and prevent flooding issues,' Logan said. 'All stormwater in the city drains into one existing culvert. Recent storm events such as Hurricane Ida have caused the area on Fifth Avenue and Olive Street to extensively flood, creating hazardous conditions in the city, and resulting in significant property damage.
'We are seeking funding to implement a new stormwater management system that will disperse the amount of water we are currently experiencing in volumes never seen before — in non-traditional floodplain areas, and thus mitigate the impacts of lingering heavy rains, and reducing the potential for additional, catastrophic flooding that could lead to loss of life,' Logan said.
'When Hurricane Ida hit Chester County, our county services were there for immediate and ongoing recovery efforts for the people of Coatesville,' said Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz, chairwoman.
'Our emergency services' staff provided support in opening up a resource center to meet the recovery needs of everyone impacted by the hurricane, and they also provided coordination with FEMA and PEMA for disaster relief. Staff in the county's Department of Community Development sought shelter and housing for those displaced by the hurricane and have worked with families throughout the year to seek ways for them to return to permanent homes,' Moskowitz said.
'The City of Coatesville's responsibility to repair and replace outdated stormwater infrastructure can be financially supported by the county through both Community Revitalization Program (CRP) funds and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds,' said Moskowitz on Aug. 19.
'The county has awarded over $850,000 in funding specifically for stormwater and storm sewer projects over the years,' Moskowitz said, 'and will certainly review and consider any applications for stormwater infrastructure improvements in the future.'
'Upgrading Coatesville's infrastructure is an important and key part of its ongoing economic and community revitalization, as well as preparation for potential flooding from future storms like Ida,' said State Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-19th of West Chester on Aug. 19.
'A strong and reliable infrastructure is vital to meet the needs of residents, families, workers, and businesses in Coatesville and across Chester County and Pennsylvania,' the senator said.
Besides the work presently underway on the new Coatesville Train Station and PennDOT roadway maintenance and repair projects, Comitta said she continues to work with our state and federal legislative delegation to identify and access opportunities for funding through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment Act.
Comitta said that the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes a Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program to support transportation projects and planning to protect against flooding.
The National Centers for Environmental Information, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific and regulatory agency within the United States Department of Commerce, recorded more than 300 separate U.S. billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2021.
The top five most costly disasters to strike the U.S. since January 1, 2000, were all hurricanes, including the multi-billion events Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Maria in 2017, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Ida in 2021, according to Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with NOAA.
'Hurricane Ida's impacts along the Gulf Coast and the Northeast are still accumulating and might surpass Hurricane Sandy in terms of total costs, inflation-adjusted to present-day dollars,' Smith said.
Coatesville homeowners were severely impacted by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which hit the city on September 1, 2021. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Ida hit the North Atlantic seaboard in late August 2021. The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached southeastern Pennsylvania on Sept.1, yet the flooding caused by Ida brought historic and deadly damages to the region.
Four first responders were injured while performing rescue operations.
And elsewhere in Chester County, one man died in Downingtown during the storm.
'I watched in my neighborhood and across Chester County, top-tier emergency services spring into action, including volunteer firefighters, police officers, and 911 operators. They saved lives. Immediately following; nonprofits and places of faith swooped in to get needed aid to survivors,' said Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell, whose hometown is Downingtown.
Lavender-Norris noted that Sept. 1, the day Ida arrived in the city, is also her birthday. After the storm, she joined citizens and fellow elected officials at Olive and Fifth. The city council president said she was there not as a lawmaker, but instead to be a servant to help others with mental, physical and spiritual support.
The council president also lauded Maxwell for 'getting his hands muddy' and working on the ground to make a difference after Ida as the city struggled to recover and families were unsure of what the future held, including when they'd even be able to return to their homes to salvage — through tears, endurance and strength — for keepsakes and valuables.
Although the lack of action to replace the city's outdated stormwater infrastructure is 'unfortunate,' Lavender-Norris added, 'even more than buildings — people's lives were flooded. Their lives were flooded.'
Many people lost everything. And still, hope rises.
A few days later after the Daily Local News interviewed Lavender-Norris and issued this report on Aug. 19, the White House sent its infrastructure czar, Senior Advisor Mitch Landrieu, to Coatesville.