Port Deposit wall facing new danger of collapse

Engineers are concerned over two shifting sections

one is near Town Hall

May 15, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT -- A section of a century-old retaining wall that holds back a mountain of rock and soil behind buildings along Main Street in this Susquehanna River town is in danger of collapsing -- again.

"The engineers tell us it could fall anytime," Mayor Robert "Rob" Flayhart said yesterday as he pointed to a section of stone wall, about 30 feet long, not far from his Town Hall office.

He said the concrete-and-rock structure, which also supports High Street, has moved about 2 inches in recent weeks. High Street is about halfway up the hill behind homes on Main Street.

The first indications of trouble at the wall were detected in early February, when the retaining wall showed signs of bulging and cracks in High Street began to widen.

Part of the road gave way and sloped at a 15-degree angle toward the retaining wall.

A portion of a one-lane bridge serving a house on High Street collapsed into a stream flowing into the Susquehanna River.

Engineers blamed the problem on water seeping into the ground and freezing during the winter.

"It put tremendous pressure on the wall," Flayhart said at the time.

Yesterday, he pointed out a new concern -- the formation of a sinkhole on High Street about 20 feet long, 15 feet wide and 18 inches deep. A utility pole carrying electricity to the half-dozen homes was in the hole.

"If the wall falls, it could take that pole, with its transformer, with it," Flayhart said. "It keeps getting bigger," he said of the hole.

As Flayhart toured sections of the damaged wall, workers from Conectiv electric company were taking the wires from the poles and stretching them along the road, enclosing them in a protective conduit. The half-dozen homes will still have electricity, Flayhart said.

The town has declared a state of emergency, but no residents have evacuated their homes, he said.

Bill Eldred, the town's community development director, lives on Main Street below the bulging wall. He said he didn't see a need to leave his home.

"I have two levels of terrace between me and the wall," he said. "The greatest danger is a bouncing boulder. I'm not losing any sleep over this situation."

Archie Christin, who also lives on Main Street below the section of wall most in danger of collapsing, said he and his wife haven't considered leaving their home.

"I just don't see it being any big deal," he said.

"Look at that," he said, pointing to the three-story wall behind his home. "That's solid granite; it's not going to fall. Maybe some mud might slide down, but I'm not worried."

The wall behind Main Street leading up to High Street is about 700 feet long.

Flayhart said two sections are showing new signs of movement. The second section, where the shifting was less severe, is almost directly above Town Hall.

Eldred said the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has authorized the town to use $121,000 in federal money to help shore up the wall.

He said the town has received $621,000 in federal and state funds to repair the wall and High Street, a project estimated to cost $1.3 million.

The Manekin group, a business partnership that has been awarded a contract to development the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property just above High Street, has donated a construction crew to make temporary repairs on the most endangered section of wall, Flayhart said. He said the crew will tear down a portion of the wall and remove the dirt and road behind it.

Once that is done, the plan is to install a temporary retaining wall and fill in behind it. That work is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, Flayhart said.

The mayor said the work on permanent repairs should begin in about a month.

This will involve a new retaining wall anchored by supports running beneath High Street.

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