Story Summary

Sinkholes form in Harrisburg, force evacuations on 4th Street

Residents along the 21oo block of Harrisburg were forced to leave their homes after two large sinkholes formed Monday.

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Local News
03/21/14

Harrisburg sinkhole problems persist

Deteriorating water and sewage pipes are showing their age in Harrisburg.  Multiple sinkholes opened up on Thursday when a water main burst along 14th Street.

The water main break caused multiple sinkholes to open up and forced people to evacuate their homes.  They were let back in yesterday.  Just within the past year, a sinkhole opened up along North 4th Street that also resulted in evacuations.

Shannon Williams with Capitol Region Water says right now they are going to be focusing on prevention, so that sinkholes like these don’t open again, “We’re going to be purchasing some sound equipment that will locate and detect leaks within a good foot of each other.  We’re going to deploy those throughout they city, we are going to start paying attention to how things sound, how they should sound, how they’re not sounding, and pay more attention so that we can maybe pinpoint some of these problems before they occur and become large sinkholes.”

Capitol Region Water is getting quotes from contractors to determine the extent of the damage underneath the road here and how they will go about fixing it.

A boil water advisory remains in effect for people living along 14th Street, but it is expected to be lifted sometime Friday night.

The massive sink hole that forced people out of their homes along North Fourth Street in Harrisburg is finally fixed and the road re-open. This sink hole has caused headaches for people living on the street since January. People were living in shelters and without water and gas for some time.

Just last week the repairs were complete, and now people who live on the street say it’s the little things that they appreciate now that the work is done.

“  My family, they come over and  the road wasn’t repaved then I would have to walk down to the other end to meet them but now it’s more convenient because the road is repaired,” says Dawn Gumby

The city was recently awarded a $900,000 loan to repair that sinkhole.

Nearly 28 million dollars in loans is being awarded to help fix sinkholes and upgrade the wastewater treatment facility in the capital city.

Both Rob Teplitz and Patty Kim are calling this a major win for Harrisburg.

But city council members aren’t as thrilled about it even though the money will fully cover the current sink holes on 4th street.

Dauphin County Representative Patty Kim visited 4th street the day the ground sunk in.

“There was like a cave in the middle of the ground,” says Patty Kim, (D) 103rd Legislative District.

She remembers the looks on the faces of people who live on that street.

“This is crisis money,” says Kim.

But the $900,000 dollars given by PENNVEST only covers that specific sinkhole.

Rob Teplitz says there’s 30 other ones in the city that could cause just as much damage if not more.

“It’s important that we not just fix these problems but that we maintain the infrastructure that’s been a large source of the sinkhole issue,” says Rob Teplitz, (D) 15th Senate District.

City council members are wary of the money and wouldn’t comment on camera.

Sandra Reid says she wants to know what responsibility comes with taking the money before the city digs itself an even deeper financial hole.

And as a former council member, Kim says she understands the burden a loan carries.

“We will do it it’s tough but we’ll make it happen,” says Kim.

Another loan is going toward upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

It’s 26 million dollars and it’s money to meet the standards of a Department of Environmental Protection requirement.

“It’s good news for the city it needs funding for some significant infrastructure investments and it’s nice to see the state stepping up as a partner with these two low interest rate loans,” says Teplitz.

Rob Teplitz says these two loans will also add nearly a hundred jobs for Pennsylvanians.

sinkhole

File photo

The City of Harrisburg has been awarded significant state funding toward two local infrastructure projects, according to state Sen. Rob Teplitz.

The Harrisburg Authority received a $26 million low-interest loan, administered by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST), toward upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The improvements will bring the plant’s ammonia and nutrient reduction requirements into compliance with the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection. This $53 million project will also receive $26.7 million in outside financing and a $973,000 H20 PA grant.

In addition, the City of Harrisburg received a $900,000 low-interest loan through PENNVEST toward repairing water and sewer infrastructure damaged by sinkholes on the 2100 block of N. 4th Street.

Both projects create nearly 100 construction jobs for Pennsylvanians.

“These projects will provide significant improvements to the city’s infrastructure and have a direct positive impact on residents. I’m pleased to have played a small role in the process,” said Teplitz (D-Dauphin/York), who advised the city and its receiver to apply for the PENNVEST funds. “The state’s investment will help move Harrisburg forward and provide relief to the residents along 4th Street and the surrounding neighborhood.”

The city has been plagued with sinkholes, including two that opened in the middle of the street on the 2100 block of N. 4th Street last December, just as Teplitz took office. In addition to providing water, information on finding shelter and ongoing support to the residents who were directly impacted, Teplitz immediately submitted a $24 million capital budget request for repairs to nearly 40 sinkholes located across the city. That funding, which is included in the 2013-14 capital itemization bill, is still awaiting approval in the House of Representatives and ultimately needs approval from the governor.

Since the huge sinkholes opened on the 2100 block of N. 4th Street in Harrisburg in January, neighbors say sewage has permeated the air and occasionally flooded their basements.

“The real bad smell in the morning and at night, like when it gets really, really hot outside, there’s a really bad smell,” said Jenefer Casiano who lives on the block.

Some neighbors believe there’s a direct connection between the work the city did to repair the aging lines that gave way this winter. But, Kevin Hagerich, the head of the city’s public works department said Monday that’s not necessarily the case.

Hagerich pointed to the face that the pipes in the street were over 100 years old when they failed. He said some of the homeowners’ pipes may be in similar condition and their responsibility to fix. He also pointed to recent heavy rainfall creating a backup.

“So, if our street’s starting to fail, some of their plumbing’s starting to fail,” said Hagerich.

City Councilor Sandra Reid held a meeting Monday aimed at getting a clearer idea of what’s creating the sewage issue.

“Not that we’re responsible, the city’s not taking any responsibility or liability,” said Reid. “There’s no indication from the city’s standpoint that the replacement of the line is the sole reason why (the sewage) came.”

Councilor Susan Brown-Wilson called the situation “strange.” She went on to say, “And there should be no backup in those homes because those homes have been there. They’ve never had a problem before.”

The city has sent letters to homeowners informing them of a new sewer line warranty program, aimed at cutting down on high sewer line repair costs, which can run several thousand dollars. The program is offered through Sewer Line Warranties of America.

While neighbors deal with the sewage issue, their road remains closed. Hagerich said his crews have some work left to do on the sewer system but plan to have the road reopened by August 1.

Local News
04/23/13

Fixing the Sinkhole Problems

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.

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.

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