Displaced renters to return home this week, but frustration continues for some

By on November 30, 2016
Workers on Nov. 16 continue to fill a sinkhole which collapsed the intersection of Park Avenue and Pine Street on the morning of Nov. 8. (photo by Patrick Burns)

Workers on Nov. 16 continue to fill a sinkhole which collapsed the intersection of Park Avenue and Pine Street on the morning of Nov. 8. (photo by Patrick Burns)

Residents driven from their apartments by a Nov. 8 sinkhole had hoped to return to their Park Avenue homes today.

But Tuesday’s heavy rains may have pushed back that date, according to William Harvey, Ephrata police chief and emergency management coordinator, who’s been handling communication about the sinkhole which opened about 5 a.m. on Election Day.

The sinkhole hole was about 20 feet deep and 45 feet long before excavation began.

While no one was injured initially &tstr; when the street collapsed and displaced 19 residents from 12 apartments on Park Avenue &tstr; a worker who fell in the hole last week required surgery.

Six other residents who live in a four-unit apartment building at 226 W. Pine St. returned to their apartments on Nov. 11.

But for some of the still displaced Park Avenue residents, such as Tony and Lori Gehman, returning to apartments actually means moving out.

“We’re frustrated, we’re not going back to live,” Lori said. “I just want to know when I can get my furniture.”

The couple was approved for a loan to buy a home on Garret Circle but is in limbo of sorts having no furniture. They’ve been staying at the Red Carpet Inn since the sinkhole collapsed the intersection.

Harvey said that a structural engineer scheduled an inspection on the apartment building Tuesday and residents may be able to move back in on Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

But some residents are suspicious of the building’s owner and property manager Hauenstein Agency, which they say has not been communicative while the residents were locked out of their apartments for three weeks.

The property owner has deferred questions about tenants and building safety to Ephrata Borough officials.

Some residents have said they’ve finally heard from Hauenstein this week and were told they’d only be allowed in through the back entrance,

“Yeah, right, not allowed out the front for up to a week later and the place is safe but not safe enough to use front door?” asked one tenant.

Some, who asked to remain anonymous, suggest the motivation to return residents by Dec. 1 because it would require tenants to pay a full month’s rent. Residents still don’t know if they’ll be refunded for their November rent payments.

“Either this is being pushed by owners to receive the whole month rent or to somehow not refund our November rent and apply it towards December‘s (rent) because it will screw up their books,” one tenant said. “My opinion is as long as they have someone’s December rent, they’re agreeing everything is fine and they cannot go back to what happened prior.”

Jack Farnquist, whose apartment was flooded with raw sewage when a temporary septic line apparently malfunctioned Nov. 13, said moving back isn’t an option even if he wanted to.

That septic line, established to allow Pine Street residents to move back in Nov. 11, destroyed rugs, furniture, clothing, and more, he said.

“I was allowed in when they ripped up the rugs and cleaned the place, but the stench was unbearable,” Farnquist said. “Who would ever want to move back into a place that had feces all over?”

Harvey said Sandy Kramer of the borough staff advises that the residents should submit their claim to their insurance company first and “if they reject it to send it to the borough for consideration by the borough’s insurance.”

This was also relayed this to Hauensteins, he said.

Farnquist, who said he’s looking for legal guidance, and the Gehmans were told rental insurance does not cover any losses connected to the sinkhole.

“Who knew there was such a thing as sinkhole insurance?” asked Lori Gehman.

Farnquist expressed frustration with the building’s owner as well.

“I have heard nothing from them and now they’re calling to say they’ve heard rumors that I was not moving back in,” Farnquist said. “This is so frustrating and unfair. They’ve done nothing to communicate or see how we’ve been doing.”

Before anyone can get back into the building, the structural engineer must first give his blessing. Harvey said that report could be submitted to the borough as early as today (Nov. 30) or Thursday, Dec. 1.

“We are very hopeful that if the building evaluations went well, and they will be able to return to their abodes this week,” he said.

However street repair work affected by (Tuesday’s) rains will hamper some construction efforts and may create a slight delay, Harvey said.

“Many actionable items are weather contingent, looming rain and incoming front may alter timelines slightly,” he said.

Workers completed a ‘”flowable fill” on Monday and backfill and compacted stone have filled the void area. Harvey also stated water lines and lateral sewer connections were completed.

The cost of the project increases as the sinkhole repair continues, he said.

“The amounts (spent) to date are meaningless without knowing what has been invoiced compared to the work completed,” Harvey said. “It is fair to estimate $200,000 to $300,000 to date is a safe estimate.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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