Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse reschedules hearing date on wall collapse

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The City of Harrisburg and an apartment complex continue fighting over who is responsible for cleanup of a May retaining wall collapse.

A hearing to figure it out, originally delayed until December, is now being moved back up after Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse got involved.

“I felt enough was enough with the delays. I understand that McFarland building owners don’t want to take responsibility for this, but the wall was their property. They do have to step up and do something,” Papenfuse said.

Adam Klein, attorney for McFarland Apartments, sent ABC27 News this statement:

“I should start by pointing out the Housing Code Board of Appeals meets on the third Thursday of every month. If they wish to meet at another time, they must advertise in the newspaper.

My client and I were prepared to attend the hearing on September 15th but the Board could not muster a quorum and I was informed that the hearing was cancelled. My client was unavailable to attend the October 20th hearing date and the City Code’s Officer was unavailable for the November 17th hearing date; that left the December 15th as the next available date.

I suggested back in September, after the meeting was cancelled, that the City advertise for a special meeting session so that it could be heard earlier but was told that the City didn’t want to spend the money. Now, in light of the bad press the City has been receiving, the money to advertise has been found and the meeting moved up despite the fact that I an agreement to hear the matter in December was made.”

“I felt granting one continuance was very reasonable given the Jewish holidays, but we didn’t need to draw it out into November or December,” Papenfuse said.

Peter Speaker represents McFarland’s insurance company, First National Insurance Company, and sent ABC27 News a statement:

“Firstline has not delayed this matter at all. Mr. Henry has refused us access to his property. We have had no contact with the owner of the property directly behind Mr. Henry. We have been unsuccessful so far in repeated efforts to schedule interviews with interested parties and to obtain pertinent records.

The City has informed us that it kept poor records and lost those that it had. According to the press, the Governor’s spokesman says PennDot has not been involved, even though it is undisputed that PennDot inspected, attempted to brace and then used pavement breakers and jackhammers on the wall, among other things.

PennDot admits not only that the wall was part of the original bridge construction over 100 years ago, but also that as part of the Mulberry Street Bridge project that was completed recently, they examined the bridge wall, assessed its safety, and then jackhammered and drilled into it, detached part of it from the bridge, and attached metal devices to it. Yet they are trying to convince the public that they did nothing to disturb the bridge wall and that they had no obligation to protect or warn others of any dangers they discovered or created. They are trying to convince the public that the collapse has nothing to do with their activities in 2014-2015 but rather was caused by the manner of construction 100 years ago or the paving of a parking lot years ago. They claim they have nothing to do with it but are holding press conferences, issuing self-serving statements and sending out teams of engineers, spokespersons, lawyers and even a drone.

PennDOT admits that it took charge of the bridge wall during the recent renovation project. In the months before the collapse, PennDOT admits, it hired a contractor and paid for work on that bridge wall using public funds. PennDOT admits that PennDOT and its contractor were concerned about the stability of the bridge wall. PennDOT admits that it disconnected the wall from the bridge. PennDOT admits that it removed parts of the top section of the bridge wall, apparently using jackhammers and pavement breakers. PennDOT admits that the contractor was so concerned about the stability of the wall that it got PennDOT’s permission to drill holes into it and attach metal straps or plates because of a crack in the wall. Obviously, PennDOT conducted some study of the wall. PennDOT admits that it was aware of a problem with the wall but made the ridiculous statement that it “assumed” that there was a wall behind the wall. After having done whatever review or study it decided to do, PennDOT determined that it was appropriate for PennDOT or its contractors to erect scaffolding and perform work at the top of the wall, obviously placing additional stress on it. Despite all that, PennDOT wants the public to believe that its activities had nothing to do with the collapse of the wall a matter of months later-claiming that it instead it was caused by construction of a parking lot years before.

PennDOT’s attempts to evade responsibility simply defy common sense. In fact, the wall was constructed as part of the bridge and was treated by PennDOT during the renovation project as part of the bridge.

Once PennDOT undertook modification of the wall, it clearly had the duty to do so carefully and to warn or protect the public and property owners from any dangers it created or discovered. Obviously, it failed to do so and now should step up and do what is right.”

“The wall is owned by the McFarland press. It was historically part of the McFarland press building,” Papenfuse said. “They are responsible for cleaning it up. I understand they may have insurance issues that they have to negotiate with their carrier, but they need to do that quickly”

Papenfuse said this needs to be resolved as soon as possible because the collapse caused Howard Tire and Auto to close its doors and lay off employees.

“I realize that the owners of the McFarland building have the right to due process. They have the right to appeal the decision. I hope they won’t. I hope they’ll recognize their responsibility, and they’ll get to work in cleaning up this mess,” Papenfuse said.

The hearing on October 27 is a special hearing.

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