Borough seeks fund for storm arch repairs
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.