A frustrating year is coming to an end for residents in a Northern Liberties neighborhood plagued by numerous sinkholes on their street. But with the new year also comes a promising new development. After being told for weeks that they would have to pay to clean up the mess, residents say the Philadelphia Water Department has now accepted responsibility.
Back on December 5, a sinkhole emerged on the 900 block of Randolph Street, nearly swallowing a pickup truck.
Larisa Dersko, the owner of the gray Dodge pickup, told NBC10 she had to pay $2600 for the gaping hole left behind.
The water company found the infrastructure of the street completely washed away with a 6-inch water main leak. They claimed Dersko was responsible because they believed the hole was caused by a leak in her service line.
Dersko, who was without water for a week prior to the sinkhole, told NBC10's LuAnn Cahn that she called on Thanksgiving, days before the hole opened up, to report that something wasn't right.
On December 16, another sinkhole emerged on the same street, causing a stream of water to shoot out of the ground that “reached three stories high for an hour and a half,” according to one resident. Residents also claimed the PWD never bothered to pave over the street after fixing the December 5 sinkhole.
Kate Somerville told NBC10 that water from the December 16 sinkhole flooded her basement as well as her neighbors’. Residents say it took the Philadelphia Water Department several hours to respond.
"They said they'd come," Somerville said. "They said that about three hours ago."
Residents claim PWD officials finally came to fix the break after receiving a call from Councilman Darrell Clarke.
In all, residents told NBC10 that six to seven sinkholes emerged on their street in 2013. They claimed they were frustrated that new buildings were put up on the street while they were stuck with old service lines that constantly broke. They also said that they had to cover the cost of damages and repairs.
"They doubled up our real estate tax," Somerville said. "I think for that they should do some infrastructure and do the whole block. Because it's real patchwork, ductape jobs they're doing."
Clarke's office told NBC10 they asked the Water Department to find out if there was a larger problem on the street.
"We understand that this is a frustrating experience for the residents that live here," a PWD spokesperson said in a written statement. "We will be in contact with them as soon as our investigation of the failure of some property water services and laterals is complete."
Somerville, who told NBC10 there was more flooding in her basement on Sunday, continued to contact local lawmakers for help. Finally, she heard from State Representative Curtis Thomas. Thomas says the constant sinkholes were caused by new construction over water and sewer pipes that were over 100 years old. He wrote a letter to the Water Department explaining that the homeowners who were told to pay were actually the victims of urban renewal.
“Given the growth of housing development in the area with less than adequate oversight, these old systems are overburdened,” Thomas said.
The Water Department insisted the pipes were fine. However, they agreed that their last backfill repair caused the most recent damage on the street and that the city would take responsibility.
While it may be another day or two before the street is entirely cleaned up, Somerville is relieved that something will finally be done that doesn’t involve her and other residents paying a hefty sum. She’s also hoping it will set a trend for a less stressful new year.
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