Piscataway Hills restoration finished
Officials, residents celebrate reopening of Fort Washington community after devastating landslide
“The rains and everything just started bringing the hill down. The rain just piled on it to where it just fell,” said Allen Carroll of Fort Washington as he describes the slope failure that took place two years ago along Piscataway Drive.
Carroll, a resident who has lived in the Piscataway Hills community for more than 40 years, said he felt sorry for his fellow neighbors who had to evacuate their homes in May 2014 after a portion of Piscataway Drive and the ridge above it failed, damaging water, sewer and electric lines which made the road impassable. Twenty-seven homes were immediately evacuated, five of which were deemed unsafe by Prince George’s County officials and forced those homeowners to make other living arrangements, even though they still had to make payments on their unoccupied homes, according to a March 2015 post from the Save Piscataway Hills page on Facebook.
In an effort to honor the innovative, resilient and
committed efforts of the Piscataway Hills community as well as celebrate the partnership between local residents and county government to reopen Piscataway Drive, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) proclaimed May 2 as “Piscataway Hills Day” during a special ceremony Monday at Piscataway Hills Community Park in Fort Washington. Elected officials and special guests who spoke at the ceremony included U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Infrastructure Barry L. Stanton, Maryland State Senator C. Anthony Muse and DPW&T Director Darrell B. Mobley.
Temporary repairs would be made a month later that year in June, allowing 22 of the 27 homeowners to reoccupy their homes. Save Piscataway Hills Inc., which was formed by the affected residents, established the Save Piscataway Hills Disaster Relief Fund through The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region to provide social support services to the families in need, with individual assistance administered by the county’s government agencies and departments. Over a two year period, residents of the Piscataway Hills community worked directly with the Prince George’s Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T), the Office of Emergency Management as well as various officials from all levels of county government to identify solutions and rectify the situation. Piscataway Drive officially reopened in December of last year, giving residents full access to their homes after 18 months of diligent restoration efforts, according to a proclamation from Baker.
“Two years ago, we were faced with the most expensive natural disaster in county history that impacted 28 families in the Piscataway Hills community,” Mobley said. “We’re here today to commend you for how you came together, showing ingenuity and commitment to each other to keep your community together while Piscataway Drive was rendered and passable. Thank you to the many of you who were instrumental in assisting [DPW&T] and helping to make Piscataway Drive structurally sound again.”
Stanton, who was instrumental in the restoration process from the beginning, commended the collaboration between residents and county government.
“This is the way government should work; the way government should work together with community at the state, the local and federal level. This is an outstanding day,” Stanton said.
Hoyer, whose office provided assistance in helping the county obtain a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Baker’s leadership has been absolutely critical to the reopening of Piscataway Drive.
“I remember coming on-site here. We would walk down that road and it looked pretty bleak at that point in time. There was some speculation of whether or not we were just going to try to condemn all of the homes and say, ‘Sorry, but you’ve got to move,’” said Hoyer.
But thanks to the resiliency and optimism shown by the residents of Piscataway Hills, Hoyer said the community’s spirit is stronger than ever, especially in the pursuit of an equitable solution during a very difficult time.
“You kept the faith. You kept us focused and you kept hope alive,” he said. “Making sure there was ac- cess to these homes, making sure there was access to cementing this property — literally and figuratively cementing the ability to stay here, live here, raise children here and have a community here.”
Muse said the partnership between the Piscataway Hills community and county government is a perfect example of what happens when everyone comes to the table to solve a complicated situation.
“When government comes to the table, when citizens push forward and we all come to the table in the face of an emergency and a tragedy and to say, ‘We’re going to work this out.’ Any of the pieces of the puzzle not at the table, this day would not have happened,” Muse said. “When we all work together, we realize that the impossible can be done.”
For Baker, he said having good people and leaders to secure necessary resources was key to restoring normalcy back to the Piscataway Hills community. Baker acknowledged how grateful he is to have the advocacy of state and federal partners, and cooperation from the county government.
“At the time when we saw this beautiful park, [Prince George’s County] had committed $11 million [of taxpayer dollars]. That was nowhere near the amount we needed to actually get this back to functioning. It was clear it was not just going to be something we could do as a county alone,” Baker said. “It’s amazing what citizen action will do. But it is also amazing because it would not have happened if it had not been for the most important constituency of all — and that is the people who live here.”
The ceremony ended with a special tree planting to symbolize new beginnings and staying power for the Piscataway Hills community. Baker said it will stand as a symbol of the county and state’s commitment to make sure that the Piscataway Hills Community Park is open and available for generations to come.
“All of you that don’t live down here really stepped up and saved us,” said Piscataway Hills Citizens Association President Robert Reilly. “It was hardship. We were staying in hotels at first so to get to this point that we’re able to get home, have water, have electric, it’s huge because we all have mortgages and things like that. For the county, the federal government and the state and [have] neighbors help us, it was just fabulous for us all.”
Carroll said it’s a wonderful feeling to finally see the Piscataway Hills community restored.
“I felt sorry for the people down here. A lot of people have been here for years, probably longer than I have,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area. It took a while, but they got it done.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker presents Piscataway Hills Citizens Association President Robert Reilly with a proclamation declaring May 2 as “Piscataway Hills Day” during a special ceremony Monday at Piscataway Hills Community Park in Fort Washington. Thanks to the partnership between residents, the county government as well as state leaders, Piscataway Drive was able to reopen late last year after 27 homes had to be evacuated due to a slope failure in 2014.