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Harrisburg City Council criticizes handling of sinkholes, calls for federal hearing

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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.