Despair deepens for displaced residents

By on November 16, 2016

A failed temporary septic pipe backed up sewage Sunday into two Park Avenue apartment units rented by residents displaced by last week’s sinkhole

Photo by Patrick Burns. Workers excavating an area near the sinkhole, which took out the West Pine and Park Avenue intersection, stretched to 60 feet wide by 100 feet long.

 Workers excavating an area near the sinkhole, which took out the West Pine Street and Park Avenue intersection, stretched to 60 feet wide by 100 feet long.

by Patrick Burns

Jack Farnquist Jr. grew a fondness for the gardenia plant he’d carefully tended to during his two-year residency at his Park Avenue apartment.

But he gave the plant to his neighbors Harry and Terrie Bachart on Friday morning as the couple moved back into their West Pine Street apartment after a three-night stay at the Red Roof Inn.

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Outside his Park Avenue apartment, Jack Farnquist Jr., left, still displaced by last week’s sinkhole, talks with Nancy Harris, right, Ephrata Borough planning and engineering manager. Terrie Bachart, middle, was able to return to her apartment on West Pine Street after spending three nights at the Red Roof Inn.

“You take care of this now,” Farnquist said to Terrie, who is blind. “I’m not sure I’ll be coming back here again.”

The neighbors were among 19 people displaced when a sinkhole on West Pine Street opened before 5 a.m., Nov. 8. Digging workers the next day found a broken storm drain pipe.

The hole, which initially continued to widen, threatened two apartment buildings — an eight-unit structure and four-unit building, one on Pine Street and the other on Park Avenue.

The 20-foot-deep hole was about 45 feet long before excavators began digging out around it. Workers excavating the area, which took out the West Pine and Park Avenue intersection, stretched the cavity to 60 feet wide by 100 feet long.

Residents, including the Bacharts, were allowed to return to their dwellings at 226 W. Pine St. Friday morning while Farnquist, Nancy Miles and others were allowed only to enter their apartments —located at 241 to 247 Park Ave. — long enough to gather some belongings on Friday.

Nancy Harris, Ephrata Borough planning and engineering manager, and other borough employees escorted the residents in and out of the Park Avenue building.

Residents whose lives were turned upside-down gathered around to question and express their concerns to Harris. Harris told the Park Avenue residents they would have a better idea Thursday, Nov. 17, when geotechnical testing will be completed and when they might be able to return to their homes.

“I’m afraid the sinkhole will get bigger and then where are we going to be?” asked Terrie Bachart who’s lived in the apartment for 45 years.

“My apartment is closest to the hole,” Farnquist said. “I’m afraid it’s going to go down.”

The borough built a temporary septic tank and affixed a septic line to the four-unit building on Park Avenue, and connected an external gas line that extends south to homes on Park Avenue.

Miles said she was grateful for the borough’s input and praised officials such as Harris, Mayor Ralph Mowen and Ephrata Police Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator William Harvey, who’s been the point person handling communication and safety management.

Farnquist said he’s not optimistic about living near a sinkhole after doing research on sinkholes in Lancaster County.

“If I do get my home back I’m moving out of here,” he said last Friday. “I don’t trust sinkholes. Sinkholes return all the time.”

He said Lancaster County is susceptible to sinkholes because of its carbonate bedrock of limestone that occurs at or near the surface – this is typical in central and eastern Pennsylvania. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website has an interactive map of Pennsylvania sinkholes along with data on all sinkholes in the state including the one which occurred in Ephrata Nov. 8. http://dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/hazards/sinkholes/index.htm

Harvey has been sending out daily updates on the sinkhole, but said the cause of it “has yet to be determined,” and that the “investigation by engineers and geologists continues with testing starting soon.”

Harvey said workers have made “great progress” over the weekend and all the bad soil was excavated and 100 yards of concrete was poured, along with stone added to build the necessary foundation.

Meanwhile the 13 residents in eight apartments, all on Park Avenue, remain homeless.

And just when Farnquist, who is staying with his daughter in Denver, and his neighbors thought things couldn’t get worse, it did on Sunday.

He received a call from the building management company, Hauenstien Agency, on Monday that the temporary septic line set up for the four apartments on West Pine St. had backed up into his apartment.

When he arrived to inspect the property, Farnquist said workers from Compleat Restorations had begun cleaning up the mess. He took pictures of the ravaged apartment where workers had ripped out most of the carpeting.

“The smell was so bad I could only take a few pictures,” he said. “I’ve lost everything.”

Any question about ever coming back to live there ended, he said.

Harvey confirmed the sewer leak early Wednesday morning.

“The borough and (Hauenstien Agency) mobilized Compleat Restorations to clean and sanitize,” Harvey said. “They removed portions of the carpet that were wet.”

Residents have been told that renters insurance would not cover losses associated with the sinkhole unless it has a waiver for sinkhole insurance.

“I don’t know if this damage is considered sinkhole damage,” Farnquist said. “But it would have been nice if I were able to remove stuff before this happened. They said I couldn’t go in because it wasn’t safe, yet those guys are in there cleaning it up.”

The borough and Farnquist differ on the damage.

Farnquist said losses due to sewage flood included damaged rugs already torn up; damage to furniture, two beds, couches, clothes, TV and microwave stands, kitchen table, vacuum cleaner and more. The flood got into his storage area and also destroyed a Christmas tree, suitcases, an entertainment system, and more.

Harvey said the legs of kitchen furniture may have been affected “but Compleat treated them with a antimicrobial.”

“The borough contacted a remediation contractor right away and had them address the affected area,” Harvey said.

Farnquist said he’s considering hiring an attorney.

Outside his apartment last Friday, Farnquist had said officials prevented him from removing everything from his property. “They don’t want us going there and jumping up and down.”

Besides his gardenia, he was able to retrieve some clothes and personal items out of apartment on Friday.

“I took pictures, I took my father’s military medals and his army coat; things that are of value to me,” Farnquist said Nov. 11.

He worried that day if he’d eventually lose everything.

“If the building goes down I’ll have to go buy new furniture again, my insurance won’t cover it,” Farnquist said Friday. “I wish I could bring a U-Haul Truck up here right now and take all my stuff right now.”

Robert Thompson, Ephrata Borough manager, commended the “outstanding work” by the borough personnel, which he said should not be overlooked.

“For example our planning and engineering staff worked directly with residents to see that they are being kept safe and that they have access to housing until we can determine the status of their apartment building.”

Thompson said workers went “above and beyond” by personally working with the residents fielding calls after hours and in one case, assisted a resident retrieving their cat from the apartment.

“Our operations group took all the necessary action to see that water and sewer services were maintained with minimal disruption to customers,” he said.

Thompson said the borough arranged to provide temporary sewer service to the four unit apartment building so that the number of displaced residents was decreased from 19 to 13 by the end of Thursday.

He praised Harvey’s difficult task in working to keep the media informed.

“I believe that it is important for this community to know that their Borough staff is here to protect them from the dangers of unexpected circumstances. The employees take a lot of pride in their efforts and should be recognized as well,” Thompson said.

Harvey said Tuesday in an e-mail that construction and utility work at the site will be suspended from Thursday, Nov. 17 to possibly Sunday Nov. 20.

“This is due to geophysical surveying will be conducted at the site,” he wrote. “This testing requires non-interference which construction could adversely affect the results.

Geophysical surveying results “should be completed soon thereafter,” Harvey said.

Farnquist, who is employed as a maintenance worker at Our Mother of Perpetual Help elementary school — located around the corner from the sinkhole — said he worries about Terrie Bachart’s blindness and another neighbor who has limited mobility.

“I recommend to them not to go back,” he said.

Terrie Bachart said it’s not so simple to move from a home you’ve lived in for 45 years.

“I’m not sure I could find another place to live,” she said. “I know where everything is here. I’m pretty much independent and I do things on my own and it would be hard to find anything we could afford.”

Patrick Burns is a staff writer and social media editor 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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