West Pittston, Luzerne County — It has been four long years since floodwaters turned roads into rivers in West Pittston. Many people who lived and worked there needed boats to navigate to their homes and businesses. The Flood of 2011 dealt a crippling blow to this community in the shadows of the Susquehanna River. “Four years ago, if you rolled through here you saw debris all over the place. People sitting on their porches crying losing everything they had,” said West Pittston Borough Manager Savino Bonita.
Since the flood, Mr. Bonita said nine homes were purchased and demolished through flood buyout programs and four more were acquired and are also slated for demolition. While removing those vacant flood-damaged properties is a plus, Mr. Bonita said it does have its shortcomings. “The have to be green-spaced. They can’t be developed. Tax base is lost on the properties so that’s an impact financially to the borough.”
But many flood victims – both residential and commercial – refused to leave. They reinvested in their properties and the community. “The desire to stay here and take those beatings on losing their valuables and their homes and rebuilding but they chose to come back so that’s the positive side,” said Mr. Bonita.
You can count Joe Agolino among the positives. The owner of Agolino’s Restaurant on Luzerne Avenue seized the opportunity to make significant improvements to his flood devastated business. “We redid the whole place. I mean all new equipment, new rugs, new wall. Everything. The whole place is brand new.” In the past four years, Mr. Agolino also bought two nearby lots for more customer parking. “Everybody likes the place and I’m happy. I’m happy for myself and I’m happy for the people.”
West Pittston has come a long way since the flood of 2011 but with shuttered buildings and properties for sale it still has a long way to go. “As long as the people stay positive and have belief in the town I think we are actually going to make our way back,” said Mr. Bonita who added he hopes in the next four years that flood insurance rates will be more affordable for residents and businesses and that improved flood protection will be available to them.