The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 31, 2013

Unchecked vegetation a concern | Miniforest has taken root in river

JOHNSTOWN — The trees and bushes are so lush and colorful that any landscaper would be proud to call them his own. The only problem is, they are growing in the Conemaugh River.

They have taken root in the stony riverbed as the Conemaugh winds its way through the Cambria City and Coopersdale sections of Johnstown. They also are sprouting from the concrete walls that line the river.

“It’s something we keep an eye on,” Dan Jones, public affairs specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District, told our Dave Sutor. “We’re concerned, but I don’t want to overstate that.”

The walls were built by the Army Corps of Engineers after the 1936 flood ravaged the city.

To its credit, the Army Corps has repeatedly requested funds from Congress to maintain the flood walls. But Congress has been lax to act on the requests.

“We ask for money for certain projects, and it’s really out of our hands what gets funded and what doesn’t,” Jones said.

Recently, the U.S. House passed the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2014, which, if adopted by the Senate, would provide the Army Corps with $62,000 to be used in Johnstown.

Just how lush is the vegetation?

“You could have a whole herd of deer down there and nobody could see them,” City Councilwoman Rose Howarth told Sutor.

Our concern is that Johnstown’s safety is being compromised by the miniforest. A heavy rainfall, similar to what Philadelphia sustained during the past weekend, could wash lots of debris into the river. That debris then would become entangled in the unwanted growth, creating what every Johnstowner fears – another flood.

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