Due to the destructive nature of landslides in the Allegheny County area, many policy makers have thought to pursue comprehensive landslide legislation that would tackle issues of recovery costs and investment in preventative structures. Unfortunately, most of these attempts have occurred on the statewide level. While the Pennsylvania State government has the most resources that could be allocated towards the issue, they have been hesitant to act in the past due to the fact that landslides occur mainly regionally in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That means, they will help with recovery costs after a particularly bad landslide season, but tend to not act when it comes it investing in prevention technology and infrastructures. Instead, many state officials believe the responsibility falls to more local authorities.
Southwestern Pennsylvania’s geography allows it to be uniquely susceptible to landslides. Allegheny County has had catastrophic landslides that have caused 18 million in damages to homes and transportation just this year. Landslides are mainly caused by human development and the unique soil in Allegheny County makes it even more prone to landslides. Currently, there are still five streets still shut down. The average turnaround for these streets to be cleaned up is two to four weeks. This range is extremely dependent on how much funding the municipality has. Richer areas get cleared up faster than poorer areas. Poorer, low-density municipalities have a lot fewer resources which results in a longer cleanup time and a bigger inconvenience to people, whether they are property owners or people affected by closed roads.
The burden of developing falls on the people that want to start construction on these sites, and the regulations for developing on said land is universally guided by the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Codes. Further regulation is outlined in municipal codes. These vary from municipality to municipality on factors like geography, rainfall, and amount of development already in the area. It is up to the developers to find, or sometimes pay for, the municipal codes, which are not located in one central database.
It is on the municipal, or township, engineer to be in charge of delegating resources to an area should a landslide occur. More populous areas have the ability to hire an engineering firm, whereas more impoverished areas don’t. This leaves poorer areas to have limited choices, with most of them hiring a single engineer. This puts the brunt of the responsibility on the single engineer that the township employs, which furthers the divide between the more well-to-do townships.
Local entities are now taking greater steps to pursue policy change, because the 2018 landslide seasons was one of the worst in recent history, in terms of damages and costs of repair. Because they now see that the state government will be much more slow to intervene than they would like, they are now forming their own commissions and tasks forces to explore policy solutions. There have been task forces formed at both the county and city levels, both trying to tackle the unique challenges of landslides and landslide recovery. For more information on the current status of the county task force, one can reach out to the Office of The County Executive. For those wanting more information on the city-wide task force, they can reach out to the Department of Public Works, as well as the Department of Mobility & Infrastructure.