Bor­ough seeks fund for storm arch re­pairs

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

POTTSTOWN » As the ag­ing ma­sonry stormwa­ter arches in Pottstown con­tinue to crum­ble, the bor­ough is pur­su­ing state funds to shore them up.

On Sept. 3, coun­cil is ex­pected to vote to ap­ply for a $500,000 grant from the Com­mon­wealth Fi­nance Author­ity to re­pair arches that have fallen as well as make main­te­nance re­pairs to pre­vent other col­lapses.

Bor­ough Man­ager Justin Keller said the bor­ough’s match for the grant would be $100,000, but that he in­tends to pur­sue a sep­a­rate grant in Jan­uary to pro­vide the money for the bor­ough’s match.

The sec­ond grant comes from money set aside for “flood mit­i­ga­tion,” Keller said.

The arches are, in ef­fect, long bridges that, over the years, cov­ered over the small streams that run through the bor­ough as it was de­vel­oped over the last 200 years.

Many prop­erty own­ers are likely un­aware there are arches on their prop­erty as they are of­ten not men­tioned on deeds.

News about Penn­syl­va­nia’s crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture of­ten fo­cuses on roads and bridges. But just as prob­lem­atic is the in­fra­struc­ture you don’t see ev­ery day.

Since 2004, when a ma­jor arch col­lapse in the mid­dle of the first block of Wal­nut Street made the prob­lem dra­mat­i­cally clear, the bor­ough has been deal­ing with a slow-mo­tion catas­tro­phe of arch col­lapses on both pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty.

• In 2009, an arch beneath the for­mer Fred­er­ick Brothers Mill at East and North Hanover Street par­tially col­lapsed

• In 20012, a stormwa­ter arch col­lapsed on Grant Street, ad­ja­cent to The Hill School’s phys­i­cal plant

• In May, an­other sec­tion of the same stormwa­ter arch that col­lapsed in 2004, col­lapsed be­hind a home on the south side of the same block of Wal­nut Street.

• Last month, an arch beneath the for­mer Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal at 1200 E. High Street col­lapsed in the wake of a thun­der­storm.

Keller said he re­cently par­tic­i­pated in a meet­ing with state and county elected of­fi­cials in which the prob­lem was laid out in broad brush.

“I ex­plained to them that none of the cur­rent state pro­grams ad­dress this prob­lem,” Keller told Dig­i­tal First Me­dia af­ter Sept. 5’s work­shop meet­ing.

“I said you ei­ther have to change the pa­ram­e­ters of the ex­ist­ing pro­gram or es­tab­lish a new pro­gram,” Keller said.

“The re­sponse I got was ‘put in an ap­pli­ca­tion and let’s see where it goes,’” he said.

Part of the prob­lem re­lates to pri­vate-ver­sus pub­lic prop­erty.

The bor­ough is wary of set­ting le­gal prece­dent by un­der­tak­ing re­pairs to arches that are on prop­erty that does not be­long to the bor­ough. Not only does it sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease their po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity, it also has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate in­sur­ance prob­lems should an in­jury or prop­erty dam­age oc­cur dur­ing the re­pair.

He said he had spo­ken to at least one of the prop­erty own­ers and told them “you are go­ing to have to come up with some part of

the bor­ough’s share of this, un­less we get that other grant.”

This sink­hole opened up over a stormwa­ter arch in May be­hind a home on the south side of the first block of Wal­nut Street.

Pottstown Bor­ough Man­ager Justin Keller and State Rep. Tim Hen­nessey, R-26th Dist. in the stormwa­ter arch that col­lapsed be­hind Wal­nut Street in May.

This sink­hole ap­peared at a stormwa­ter arch be­hind 1200 E. High St. in Au­gust.

In 2004, a stormwa­ter arch beneath Wal­nut Street col­lapsed and cost more than $400,000 to re­pair.

Pottstown Pub­lic Works Direc­tor Doug Yerger in­spects a stormwa­ter arch beneath Pottstown.

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