Getting to the bottom of sinkhole situation

By , on December 14, 2016

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Workers on Tuesday removed temporary fencing that had blocked Pine Street since a sinkhole collapsed an intersection at Park Avenue on Nov. 8.

While many questions remain unanswered, such as the cause, it’ll be business as usual on Thursday when the street opens and detour signs will be removed around what was a 30-foot to 45-foot-wide sinkhole more than 20 feet deep.

Ephrata Borough manager Robert Thompson said borough workers repairing the hole were diligent in repairing the hole as quickly as possible.

“No unanticipated problems have been encountered,” he said.

And that was fortunate since “we did not have expectations of how long this may take as this is uncharted territory for us,” Thompson said.

Thompson on Monday updated Ephrata Borough Council on the situation on Monday evening.

While this may be great news for those weary of the detours around that part of town, it does not signal a complete end of the nightmare for those displaced by the sinkhole.

Several of the residents who had been living in the apartments buildings evacuated at 241 and 247 Park Avenue remain disrupted by the situation. A number of those tenants do not plan to ever move back to their apartments.

But Thompson said utilities should be in tact very soon and residents could get back into the apartments.

“Upon the completion of the water line we had to disinfect the line and wait for test results to release the line for public consumption,” he said Tuesday. “We are in receipt of those results and can now place the line in service.”

As for the results of engineering tests after the sinkhole, Thompson said “the subsurface evaluations did not identify any voids under the building or on the property where testing occurred.”

“ We provided a copy of the report to the owner for their review as well,” he said. “In addition the Borough had pressure grouting performed to mitigate any future issues from loose soils.”

A gas line that was affected by the sinkhole was repaired as “UGI was making a permanent repair of the disturbed gas line, Thompson said.

He noted that since last week’s meeting, borough staff had followed up with displaced renter Jack Farnquist Jr. regarding his concerns about damages done to his apartment after the failure of a temporary sewer which caused raw sewage to back up through his kitchen sink. As result, his apartment much of his apartment and his personal effects were destroyed.

“Mr. Farnquist has been contacted by our insurance carrier regarding his claims, “said Thompson. “We won’t know anything for a bit yet until we have all the information they are looking for.”

Council member Vic Richard asked if borough officials had revisited the work done by Compleat Restorations on Farnquist’s apartment to see if there had been any deficiencies as indicated during last week’s open comments.

“We did not because Mr. Farnquist had moved out and left his personal items there so we did not do anything further with this,” explained Thompson. “The unit will be cleaned up.”

Richard also asked Thompson if there had been any structural damages found on either of the two apartment buildings caused by the sinkhole. Thompson said that he was not aware of any.

With the sinkhole now filled and the roadway nearly restored, Thompson added that the window for paving to be completed before spring is rapidly closing. In fact, the final day for the borough to pave before the asphalt plants close for the season could be this week so borough road crews were hopeful for optimal conditions to be able to complete the work and get the best quality prior for winter conditions.

Depending on the outcome of the paving effort, an additional coat of asphalt may be needed come spring.

As for the total cost for the sinkhole debacle, no word yet on final figures.

“Hopefully we will have a final tally on this soon,” said Thompson. “But we are getting close to about half a million dollars.”

Thompson has stated the borough would pay for the repair costs through the borough’s $4 million reserve fund.

Assuming the roadway is paved on Tuesday, Thompson said the roads could be re-opened as early as Wednesday.

In other borough council news, members voted to approve the 2017 municipal budget which increases borough tax millage rates from 2.07 to 2.28 mills.

The median home property is assessed at $158,083 in the borough meaning the median tax hike would be $33.20 per year.

The tax increase will translate into approximately an additional $140,000 in 2017. This is remarkable considering the borough is set to absorb $250,000 in increased medical benefit costs over the same period.

According to Victor Richard, Chair of the borough council’s Budget and Finance Committee, the borough had to absorb a 9.7 percent increase in medical benefits costs, nearly double the typical four or five percent in years past. That increase translates into $250,000. Yet, due to careful fiscal management by the borough’s various managers and an infusion of cash from the borough’s general fund balance, the budget will be balanced.

This tax increase will balance the 2017 budget and put the borough on solid footing going into the following year, lessening the impact of any projected shortfall going into fiscal 2018.

Council President Susan Rowe commented on the budget process.

“Yes, we did have a tax increase,” said Rowe, “But that nobody was here tonight to comment I believe indicates that people understand that it is sometimes necessary.”

Patrick Burns is a social media editor and 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

Gary P. Klinger is a freelance journalist and always welcomes your questions and comments via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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