Pis­cat­away Hills restora­tion fin­ished

Of­fi­cials, res­i­dents cel­e­brate re­open­ing of Fort Wash­ing­ton com­mu­nity af­ter dev­as­tat­ing land­slide

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

“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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

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.

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