Sinkhole-plagued neighbors seek county’s help

by Michael Mosher on May 22, 2013

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PALMYRA — Over the past two years, Gerald Dougherty has rebuilt the decorative fence that encloses the back yard of his home at 845 Pajabon Drive again and again. Each time, a persistent sinkhole on an adjacent property undid his work. Today, a big hole gapes under a portion of the fence, and Dougherty has just about given up.

The sinkhole at the rear of Doughterty’s North Londonderry Township property is just one of more than 20 that have opened in the past two years in and around a stormwater retention pond on property owned by Bradley and Beth Steffen at 370 S. Lingle Ave. The situation is affecting nearby properties and is a concern for those in the Windsor Crossing development, just east of the pond.

At the intersection of Pajabon Drive and South Lingle Avenue, a home owned by Joanne Grimm was torn down in February.

The Steffens’ home – which they were forced to vacate a year and a half ago – will be the next to come down.

Frustrated with the situation, about a dozen neighbors from the development and those who live along West Pajabon Drive took their case to the Lebanon County Board of Commissioners during a meeting Wednesday afternoon in the commissioners’ meeting room at the Lebanon Municipal Building.

The current crop of sinkholoes began to appear in August 2011 after a major rainstorm. A month later, Tropical Storm Lee aggravated the situation. The Steffens were forced to move out of their home as the sinkholes spread under their home.

Chris Thomsen, 832 Victoria Lane, said the neighborhood group believes the situation “has gone beyond what is appropriate for this type of condition.”

Thomsen said the community would like action from the county.

“We’re not really concerned how it happened – who is to blame – but we want some resolution from the commissioners or at least some action taken to find the money to fix this,” Thomsen said. “You can imagine if this was your home and you were asked to (pay) potentially up to a quarter million dollars to fix this retention pond.”

Since it was the first time the group met with the board as a whole, Thomsen said, they didn’t expect a resolution overnight.

“But we also will not allow it to end it today, either,” he said. “If nothing is done about this, there will certainly be other homes taken in the future.”

Thomsen said the group wants to work with the commissioners to find the money to fix the pond.

His wife, Loli Thomsen, said the group would like to see action.

“We have all invested in the community,” she said. “We will see our home values deteriorate further. Realtors are basically telling the neighbors that we will not be able to resell our homes.”

Chris Thomsen pointed out that the county and township will lose tax revenue if the property owners are forced to walk away from their homes because of the deteriorating values.

Loli Thomsen said the situation is getting worse, and it’s also a safety issue.

“We are very concerned of children, perhaps, falling in the pond,” she said. “We think it’s a total disrespect to the property owners for this to go on as long as it has been.”

Commissioner Bob Phillips said one of the problems the county is having is trying to determine who is responsible for the problem.

Chris Thomsen said that’s not the urgent problem. “… find the funds to fix it,” he said, “and then we can litigate afterwards who’s responsible for paying those funds. We want to work together to get it fixed.”

Residents questioned whether the pond was properly designed. According to the county’s records, Litz said, the engineer designed the pond based on the requirements of the time, and it was approved by the county inspectors.

Beth Steffen told the commissioners that the retention pond failed about six months after they moved to 370 S. Lingle Ave., a property of a little over an acre including the pond, in June 2006.

“I lived there. I looked out my window,” she said. “(Stormwater) rose to the very top, and then we got sinkholes in it.”

An assistant to state Rep. Mauree Gingrich said the Palmyra-area legislator has contacted the state Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the state and federal Emergency Management Agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies, as well as the area’s congressional representatives.

“We’re aware of your concern,” said commissioners Chairman Bill Ames. “I don’t think the three of us are in a position to say that we’re going to find a solution for you. I will say that we’re certainly willing to discuss this and work with Mauree Gingrich’s office and certainly with the senators and with North Londonderry Township.

“I agree it needs to be a cooperative effort. … I don’t think it’s within our capabilities to solve the problem totally.”

Commissioner Phillips also vowed to help the residents.

“We’ll keep it moving,” he said. “We will get the other entities involved and revisit as necessary to get to the bottom of how it is going to be dealt with. We’re not going to drop the ball on this thing.”

Gerald and Gloria Dougherty said they once had plans of one day selling their home of more than 40 years and moving to a retirement community.

“It’s scary. We’ve got water up above us and it’s going to come down,” Gloria Dougherty said, noting that the pond was built 8 feet above their home. “We’re eventually going to lose our home.”

Gerald Dougherty said he talked to North Londonderry Township officials about the problem two years ago. They told him it was not the township’s problem and he should talk to his neighbors.

He said he hopes the meeting with the commissioners will help.

“My Realtor tells me that I can’t sell my house the way it is now with that big hole (under) the fence,” he said. “If I could sell it, it would probably be $50,000 less than it’s worth. That’s the way it sits now. Nobody wants it.”

Full article…here

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