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Work begins to determine liability in wall collapse

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HARRISBURG - Now that the collapse of a wall adjacent to  the Mulberry Street Bridge has apparently been stabilized, the questions about who will be held responsible for its collapse are starting to surface.

"That wall was not owned by the city," Mayor Eric Papenfuse declared at a news conference Friday. "The city is not, happily and fortunately, liable for what happened."

Papenfuse stressed several times on Thursday and during a briefing Friday that the wall was not the city's responsibility. Instead, he had initially said Thursday that the wall was a wing wall attached to the Mulberry Street Bridge, which is operated by PennDOT. But that agency refuted the claim Friday.

"I will say the wall itself is off the public right-of-way," Mike Keiser of PennDOT  said. "It's an independent wall. It's not attached, not a part of the Mulberry Street Bridge itself."

The wing walls run parallel to the bridge itself, Keiser said.

The city reviewed the parcel maps and determined that the wall is on the private property of the owners of the McFarland Press building, Papenfuse said.

Given the confusion over the wall's ownership, business owners whose property was damaged were frustrated about the situation.

"I find it kind of ironic that that now is the position," Howard Henry, who owns the Howard Tire & Auto Shop on Cameron Street that was severely damaged in the collapse, said Friday. "They want to say they don't own it, which is an interesting position to take after such an event."

The McFarland Press building owners declined comment to FOX43, but according to city leaders, claimed they were worried about the wall's structural integrity.

"The property owner has expressed some concern, but those never made it to the city," Papenfuse said. "The city engineer didn't know it, the fire department didn't know, the codes department didn't know about it, and I didn't know about it. So I don't think there's anything we could have done other than react now."

Meanwhile, the business owners on the wrong end of the collapse are forced to move on.

"My insurance says they don't cover the debris that landed on my building, so there's going to be a lot of issues about how all that's going to get paid for and cleaned up," Henry said. "In the meantime, I have to operate my business."

Papenfuse said the city will try to help bring all the stakeholders together to figure out a solution.

But for now, it will be left to insurance adjusters and other associated workers to figure out payments and resolve the mess left behind.