Sinkhole solved

By on January 11, 2017
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.

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.

An early morning sinkhole in Philadelphia on a frigid Sunday morning perhaps offers perspective of how a street collapse of similar size in Ephrata Nov. 8 could have been much worse.

While both sinkholes left nearby residents without water, gas, and electricity, Ephrata residents braved temperatures in the 60s and lost two less SUVs —actually there were no vehicles lost in the sinkhole, which collapsed the intersection of Park Avenue and Pine Street in Ephrata.

Still, the local sinkhole took more than a month to repair and several residents in an apartment complex were homeless during that time. Motorists were also inconvenienced by a detour while Ephrata Borough workers and contractors repaired the damage.

Neighbors in Philadelphia say they woke up to water rushing into their basements, low pressure and some spilling out of pipe covers on the sidewalks. According to news reports, the break caused a large section of street to collapse, and two SUVs parked along the road went into the hole.

The Philadelphia Water Department quickly determined a six-inch water main break caused that 30-by-10-foot sinkhole to open up on a street in the city’s Fishtown section.

Ephrata officials said they might never know what caused the sinkhole, which spread about 20 feet deep, and 45 feet wide before excavation began.

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

Kevin Kohl who operates Hauenstein Agency, the company that manages the apartments, said he has never had to deal with anything like the sinkhole situation. He said the difficult part was not knowing how long the repair would take and how best to take care of the displaced residents.

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

Others were not able to return until the sinkhole repair was completed and Pine Street reopened to vehicle traffic Dec. 11.

“I would say number one we’re very happy that the situation has been resolved,” he said. “As far as the sinkhole being covered over and people being able to move back into their apartments, I think everybody is thankful for that and that it wasn’t worse… that the gas line didn’t explode, or you know it could have been much worse.”

Kohl said his company took direction from the borough’s leadership, which also found itself in a unique situation of never having dealt with this type of sinkhole situation. He said there are two apartments left which require repairs from water damage.

“So we’re thankful for all of that,” he said. “ We’re just looking forward to continuing to cooperate with the borough to put these last two apartments that needs a little work done you know get those back on line so that we get.”

Ephrata Borough Manager Robert Thompson said the incident was a learning process for everyone involved.

“In order to respond to this emergency we brought in professionals in geology, subsurface evaluations and soils remediation,” he said. “All these professionals provided for opportunities to learn in areas we did not have prior experience.”

In the end, there is still no solid evidence to conclude what caused the street to sink, he said.

“There were a number of utility lines that were impacted including a water main, sanitary sewer service line and storm sewer,” Thompson said. “There was no evidence that we could conclude what caused the street collapse.”

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 or at 721-4455.

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