Sinkhole solutions debated at Harrisburg summit

Sinkholes have plagued many areas in the Midstate, and that is why leading experts in engineering, geology and government gathered Friday in Harrisburg for the first ever Sinkhole Summit.

Pennsylvania has two unique dilemmas when it comes to sinkholes: limestone and water. Both are inescapable and both are costing municipalities millions of dollars in headaches.

About 50 people packed into a room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to debate how to fix sinkholes and fund repairs.

Lisa Rynard attended the summit as a Harrisburg resident and as a legal expert. She said the most informative was learning how sinkholes are formed.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “I’m concerned, too about my home’s value and what’s going to happen as the sinkholes continue to open up and how it’s going to affect neighbors and other people in the community.”

The morning began with engineers and experts discussing the best ways to plug sinkholes, if at all. Bill Kochanov, Pennsylvania’s leading sinkhole expert, said the solution depends on the size and location.

“Underneath a home or something like that, affecting structures is different from one being out in the backyard or out in the field somewhere. The techniques vary based on situation,” he said.

Another problem with plugging a sinkhole, he said, was water finding another pocket to erode. A very porous limestone bed stretches from Adams County through the Lehigh Valley and into New Jersey.

Kochanov said the problem is so widespread, those affected should not feel alone.

Of course, Harrisburg has been one municipality that has been plagued by neighborhood-wide sinkholes that have displaced many residents for months in recent years.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse said the most informative part of the summit was learning of various funding for local governments. He said sinkholes are eating more than just earth.

“What is going to be a multi-million dollar bill here in Harrisburg,” he said.

The summit proved to arm many with information and ideas for battling those vicious voids when they surface.

“It really puts it in perspective in learning different practical approaches and solutions for how to deal with a sinkhole,” Papenfuse said.

For those who missed the Sinkhole Summit, Papenfuse said Harrisburg’s public access channel, WHBG TV 20, will air the event in the coming weeks.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced late Friday that municipalities distressed by sinkholes are eligible to apply for hazard mitigation funding.

This means Harrisburg is able to apply for federal funds to purchase the stretch of homes on the sinkhole-plagued South 14th Street.

Officials said the process could be a lengthy one, but it would provide flexibility in dealing with funding issues.

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