Flash Flooding Creates Scary Scene Near New Recreation Center
A frightening flash flood in Oak Hall put a scare in residents living downhill from the Oak Hall Regional Park – and that's raising new safety concerns about the project.
The park, which will include four softball fields once it's completed, straddles College and Harris Townships. It's been under construction since April 2013.
Heavy rains Wednesday afternoon unleashed torrents of muddy water that rushed down a steep access road leading away from the park.
The surging water pushed tons of rocks onto Linden Hall Road, stopping just short of a home that Darlene and Stanley Smith have owned since the 1970s. "I looked up and this wall of water was coming down with the rocks, out of control. We couldn't get out of the house because it was so bad – so much water," says Darlene Smith.
Residents say this isn't the first time the recreation park has been the source of flooding. A similar flood happened last June, although it wasn't as bad the last time.
Carla Myers, the Smith's daughter-in-law, rushed to the scene after getting a frantic phone call. "She called me hysterical saying 'I want to move. I don't want to live here anymore. I can't stand this anymore,'" says Myers. "I mean, it's too stressful."
Myers adds, "Our big concern is that anybody who might have been standing here could have been hurt."
Linden Hall Road was closed to traffic for about an hour while heavy equipment operators cleared away large piles of rocks.
"We got a lot of rain and the site wasn't ready to accommodate that," says RonWoodhead, director of the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Department.
A Flood Advisory was in effect at the time, with heavy thunderstorms raking the region. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston confirms the storm dumped up to 1.9 inches of rain in some areas of State College.
Boston says a slow-moving weather system gets the blame. "Storms generally move slowly in the summertime because of very weak jet stream winds," he says.
Myers says that after last year's flood they were told that the issue had been addressed. "The thing that's really a concern to me -- we believe that their solution was to build [a water retention] pond or whatever they did up there because there was a real problem last year at exactly the same time."
Linda and Joe Westrick own property across the street from the Smiths and they agree last year's flooding raised red flags. Assured that the trouble had been fixed, the couple spent $10,000 adding a gravel drive and and a drainage pipe to nearby Spring Creek. Much of the gravel appeared to have been washed away by Wednesday's deluge.
Woodhead, surveying the damage said, "This isn't acceptable. They [the engineers] assured us that it was set up for a certain amount of rainfall. This obviously exceeded that. So we have to see what's going on. We have to investigate.
"All the [grass] seeding isn't established on essentially 40 acres of land, so it's mulched and everything but it can't take that amount of water. So something has to give and it did.
"It was an awful amount of water," says Woodhead. I'd like to find out how much water we got – how much rain."
AccuWeather's Boston estimates that one-and-a-half inches of rain fell at the park in a very short period of time. He says that much rain on a 40 acre site could produce the equivalent of "1,641,465 gallons" of water.
College Township Engineer Kent Baker acknowledges there have been talks about possible upgrades to water retention ponds at the park. "We've had some discussions about adding some additional inlets and things like that but they [design engineers] wanted to wait until the site was completed before they came back and added those."
So what happens next? According to Woodhead, "We ask the engineers to evaluate, see what happened and see what recommendations they bring back to the authority board so the contractors fix it up -- it gets fixed."