Sinkhole at new Palmyra fire house brings bad memories for neighbors

PALMYRA, Pa. -- Just when Palmyra Borough officials were about to move past one sinkhole problem which took years to fix, another one opened up a few blocks away.

The borough's newest sinkhole opened up Monday morning outside the Citizens Fire Department new headquarters, located at the corners of Walnut and Bowman Streets. The fire department's plan to move from its current location on North College Street in the coming weeks is on hold, according to the department.

Borough officials, along with members of the fire department and engineers, surveyed the damage on Tuesday. They still do not know what caused the sinkhole or how much the damage will cost.

"As the fire department, we are unable to speculate as to the behavior of the sinkhole," borough officials texted FOX43 in a joint statement. "However, we have been told by technical specialists there is no immediate danger to the public."

Palmyra residents remain skeptical.

In 2013, sinkholes appeared on residential East Cherry Street. Four years later, the 200 and 300 blocks of the street have still not opened to thru-traffic. Sinkhole remediation took years to begin, as the borough was awaiting money they obtained from federal grants. Numerous homes were demolished in July 2016, and the roads were repaved in August.

Sherry Schwalm lived on the 100 block of nearby Grant Street at the time. Her home was not condemned. However, the house next door was. She moved out of that house and into a home a few blocks away on the corner of Walnut and South Bowman, which is directly across the street from the new fire hall.

When Sherry opened her front door Monday morning, she described the feeling like it was "deja vu."

"I was shocked. Shocked at the gaping, large hole. And scared," she said. "Scared to death that it's going to come here onto my property."

Sherry owns the home. She is a lifelong Palmyra resident, she says, and her current house used to be her parents before her father passed away. She planned to sell the home and downsize before the sinkhole appeared. She is now concerned at her ability to get any money on the house.

"It really depreciates the value of the home," she says, holding back tears. "This is the second home I've owned (next to a sinkhole) and I'm very concerned about this."

Next door, Thomas Gruber isn't as concerned. He says he bought sinkhole insurance after the initial sinkhole appeared on Cherry Street. When his daughter told him about what happened Monday, his joked his first reaction was to "sit down and have a drink."

"Hopefully it's just the construction from the fire hall which caused this," he said.

The fire hall itself has generated public debate in recent years. Some residents who wished to not go on camera Tuesday felt their tax money should have gone towards studying better ways to prevent future sinkholes rather than the new building.

"It's karma," one resident said.

The old fire building, located less than a mile away on North College Street, was built in 1923.