Fixing Harrisburg’s sinkhole problem is giong to be an expensive project. Tuesday Harrisburg City Council passed a resolution to request a loan from the state. It will be a $1.7 million request to repair the sinkholes on 4th and Woodbine Streets. However this money can only be used to finish replacing old underground pipes that have caused the sinkholes. City officials hope to have both streets repaired by June.
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Harrisburg City Council approved a resolution Tuesday as part of its effort to secure state funding to cover the emergency sinkhole repairs on North 4th Street and at a separate location near North 3rd and Woodbine streets.
The city is submitting a letter of no prejudice to PENNVEST, the state’s infrastructure investment authority, with the goal of receiving a low-interest loan or grant money. The city still will have to file a formal application.
City leaders are requesting $1.7 million, saying they don’t expect to receive the full amount.
Council President Wanda Williams said Tuesday the cost of repairs is $744,000. The city’s remaining public works budget for the year is about $400,000.
“There’s been 20 years of lack of maintenance on the sewer lines, so that’s where the problems have come from,” said Councilor Sandra Reid, who chairs the council’s public works committee.
Reid said there’s no clear timeline for when work will begin on the sinkhole at 3rd and Woodbine. The state funds would be for both projects, she said.
Meanwhile, work continues at North 4th Street, where Reid said the water line work is done. The sewer replacement is about 80 percent complete, she said. However, repaving the road won’t happen until April because that work requires warmer temperatures to complete.
For the city to be eligible for the loan, it must have its 2011 audit complete by May. The city has been behind on that work in recent years.
Should the city not receive the money being sought, Williams said she is working with the city’s receiver to secure alternate funding sources. She said crews still will go froward with repairs at 3rd and Woodbine one way or another.
Harrisburg’s city council is considering a move that may help relieve a sinkhole issue that just keeps on getting bigger and bigger.
Barricades, heavy equipment and a cavernous sinkhole have now become a part of the landscape on the 2100 block of N. 4th Street for about a month and a half now.
“We are waiting,” said Ramatou Saley, who lives on 4th Street. “We are waiting. It’s very difficult.”
Monday, Public Works Director Kevin Hagerich, along with other department heads, asked the city council to vote on a resolution to move forward with a process to apply for $1.7 million in funding to repair the 4th street sinkhole and a second one forming at 3rd and Woodbine.
If approved, the city could apply for the money through PENNVEST, a state loan and grant program that can be used to pay for public infrastructure projects.
“If we don’t come up with a funding source, we’re not going to be able to react,” Hagerich said. “So we’re looking at this loan, grant as our ability to react to a bigger problem before it becomes a collapse.”
But council member Sandra Reed questioned how the money would be paid back if it was more loan than grant.
“You’re looking at, extending us into another debt credit situation,” Reed told Hagerich. “For either a short-term, one to two or two to ten year time frame.”
Officials from the Harrisburg Authority are hoping council members vote yes. Harrisburg Authority funds would be used if the city doesn’t have enough money to pay for the sinkhole repairs.
“I think it’s a good opportunity and quite frankly, something that the city needs to do to be prepared in case they don’t have the funds on hand,” said Shannon Williams, Harrisburg Authority Executive Director.
Hagerich told the council that the cost to fix the 4th street sinkhole could completely wipe out the Department of Public Works budget for the rest of the year.
Even if the council approves the resolution and the city moves forward with its application to PENNVEST, there’s no guarantee the city would be awarded the funds.
Harrisburg City Council criticized the city administration Monday night about the handling of the sinkholes on North 4th Street, an issue expected to cost the city over $500,000.
During a public hearing, public works director Kevin Hagerich updated council on the progress in repairing the street as well as the water and sewer lines. He said the sewer line replacement would cost $220,000. The water line will be another $165,000. Once street and sidewalk repairs are added in, he estimated the total cost would be between $550,000 and $600,000.
The sinkholes emerged New Year’s Eve. All utilities are back on at the affected homes.
Council sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, calling for a federal hearing in Harrisburg “about the state of America’s aging public infrastructure.”
City officials said they have estimated 41 sinkholes exist around the city. However, they said they don’t expect those sinkholes to create issue similar to what happened on 4th Street.
Calling attention to the city’s dire financial situation, Councilor Brad Koplinski said, “If we have a situation where we have $600,000 sinkholes popping up all over the city, that’s going to blow a hole in our budget.”
Several council members had sharp words for mayoral spokesman Bob Philbin and other administration staff over the handling of the situation.
Residents of the 2100 block of North 4th Street were never required to leave their homes, despite the fact that water was off for a week.
Many residents eventually got connected with the American Red Cross, or stayed with friends and family.
While they were gone, there was no 24/7 police protection of the neighborhood, and many had things stolen from their homes.
“It’s common sense. We should have had our police stationed,” said Councilor Susan Brown-Wilson.
Council also criticized the administration for not having a specific plan in place. Unlike other large-scale events, such as a flood, Philbin said this incident wasn’t categorized as a city emergency.
“The holiday had a lot to do with this. There were only two or three people handling a lot of these functions. And, I think a good plan will alleviate that. And, it’s going together as we speak,” said Philbin.
Councilor Susan Reid said a plan should have been in place before the sinkholes emerged.
She said, “We don’t know when the next catastrophe is going to be, and we don’t want to get caught behind the eight ball.”
The city is working with the Harrisburg Authority to help pay for the cost of repairs. Meanwhile, the authority is also looking at new technology to see better in the pipes throughout the city, using things like a GIS mapping system and cameras.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed Friday nearly 2,500 gallons of raw sewage leaked into the Susquehanna River last week after large sinkholes formed on North 4th Street.
DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said the agency did not directly attribute the spill to the sinkhole issue. However, city spokesman Bob Philbin said in an email, “This was a minor event resulting from the 4th Street incident and was addressed quickly and reported to DEP.”
Witman confirmed the city contacted DEP within the required time.
She said 1,913 gallons of raw sewage leaked into the river January 1. Another 574 gallons spilled into the river January 3, she said.
“That only contributes .0001 percent of the total effluent going into the river, so it’s a very, very small amount that we’re talking (about),” Witman said.
Witman said mud and silt caused a “dry weather overflow” after building up at a sewage overflow chamber underground near the intersection of Woodbine and Green streets, a few blocks from the sinkholes.
Witman said her agency is having ongoing talks with the city with regards to infrastructure improvements to prevent spills. She said residents in the area shouldn’t be concerned about health impacts.
Full water service was restored Tuesday afternoon after many residents of the 2100 block of N. 4th Street spent a week away from home. Massive sinkholes developed New Year’s Eve, due to aging infrastructure, forcing many people to say with friends and family or seek help from the American Red Cross.
“Being able to brush your teeth in the morning, or take a shower, that makes life a little more pleasant for me and those around me,” said Wendy Graham, who cam home to find a notice on her door alerting her the water service was restored.
Being away from home has been a concern for her, as some neighbors have had things stolen from their homes during this ordeal.
A second environmental test revealed Tuesday afternoon there was no bacteria, meaning it was safe to drink without having to be boiled.
Harrisburg City Council plans to hold a hearing Monday on the sinkhole issue. Councilors Brad Koplinski and Sandra Reid are inviting city officials, the Harrisburg Authority and UGI. They’re aiming to find out more about the cost of this recent issue plus what can be done to address other sinkholes throughout the city.
“We’re trying to put together a plan for the receiver, the receiver’s putting together a plan. The sewer infrastructure could blow a hole in that,” said Koplisnki.
While city officials still don’t have a clear figure for how much the sinkholes on N. 4th Street will cost, Councilor Sandra Reid said she expects other services could be impacted by it.
“We may have to curtail, maybe some street cleaning, maybe revisit some of the way we do it. Instead of cleaning twice a month, it may be curtailed back to once a month so that we can continue to do things,” said Reid.
She added the city is looking at outside funding options. She said the sinkholes don’t qualify as a natural disaster, but the city may be able to tap into environmental grants.
Crews will continue to work for several weeks installing new permanent sewer and water lines and repairing the road.
Harrisburg city leaders have scheduled a hearing to determine just how big the sinkhole problem is in the city and how much it could potentially cost to fix.
The massive sinkhole that formed more than a week ago on the 2100 block of N. 4th Street is what prompted the hearing. City officials fear this is just the beginning of a major structural problem that desperately needs to be fixed.
Public Works Director Kevin Hagerich said there are at least 40 other sinkholes throughout the city that are covered with metal plates.
“We can do the contracting, we can do the evaluations. We can do the prioritization for the city, but we need fiscal help,” Hagerich said.
Council members Brad Koplinski and Sandra Reid will lead the hearing and have asked representatives from the city, the Harrisburg Authority and UGI to appear.
Over the weekend, Governor Tom Corbett discussed the possibility of help from the state.
“As far as I know I have not heard from the mayor at this point,” Gov. Corbett said. “And I think she understands it is a city issue. But if there’s somewhere we are able to help, I mean we have helped in other times. We’ll see what we can do.”
Meanwhile, many people who live on 4th Street have been forced to relocate while crews work to install temporary water and sewer lines. Crews installed new gas lines on Friday.
The Harrisburg Bureau of Water is waiting on the results of two bacteria tests conducted on the temporary water line to see if it is safe to restore service. If so, service could be restored as early as Wednesday.
Mayor Linda Thompson said installing new permanent water and sewer lines will take at least several more weeks.
The hearing on the sinkhole situation is scheduled for Mon., January 14 at 5:30p.m. in City Council Chambers.
Budget and Finance Chair Brad Koplinski and Public Works Chair Sandra Reid will hold a joint hearing to get the latest assessments on the 4th Street sinkhole, but more importantly to determine how big the sinkhole problem is in Harrisburg and how much fixing the problem will cost.
Councilman Koplinski said, “I fear that the 4th Street sinkhole and others that have occurred in our city are just the beginning of the problem we may have. I want to determine how big this problem is and what it may cost in the future.”
City officials, representatives from the Harrisburg Authority and UGI will be asked to appear.
Councilwoman Reid stated, “There are a variety of concerns that have arisen from the sinkhole on 4th Street and I believe that we need to ask some serious questions about the structural integrity of our sewer and water pipes and how to prevent this from happening in the months and years ahead.”
The hearing will occur at 5:30pm on Monday, January 14th in City Council Chambers.
The Harrisburg Bureau of Water reports that the temporary water line at North 4th Street has been flushed and a Bacteriological test was initiated this afternoon.
Results of the test will not be known for 24 hours and a second test is required by law. Pending positive results, it is estimated that service will be restored sometime Wednesday, January 9th.
The information above provided by the Office of the Mayor of Harrisburg.