Repairs set to begin on century-old retaining wall

Three-story structure in danger of falling

October 17, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT - Work on repairing a century-old, three-story retaining wall here that has been in danger of falling since early February is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

"Finally, something is going to happen," Robert Flayhart, mayor of this picturesque Susquehanna River town, said Friday. "Thank God."

"It's been a big strain on those people living on High Street," he said of residents along the narrow, dead-end road that climbs a rocky hill above and behind homes on Main Street. High Street is supported by the retaining wall. "Their patience has been running short in recent months, and I can't blame them."

Most of High Street has been closed since Feb. 5. That's when residents first noticed cracks in the road surface that expanded into holes big enough to engulf a four-drawer file cabinet.

A piece of a one-lane bridge at the end of High Street fell into the stream below, cutting off traffic to one house.

Portions of the stone wall bulged about 18 inches from their original vertical position.

Town officials declared a state of emergency, and residents of High Street were told they should be ready to evacuate at a minute's notice.

Nobody left.

"We've been through hardship before," said Donald Poist, a 72-year-old resident, town councilman and former mayor. "We're as tough as the Port Deposit granite used to build that wall."

But their toughness began to wane.

"It has been difficult," said Kathy Klisavage, as she was returning home one evening last week. "We've had to lug our groceries up this hill," she said, standing in front of her home on High Street, which offers a view of the town and river below.

"You learn after a while not to buy a gallon of milk and laundry detergent at the same time," she said. "That makes the load too heavy to carry up the hill."

"I am thrilled beyond belief," she added, when she heard of the repair project's impending start. "We've waited so long."

Although the threat of the wall and High Street collapsing has been reduced over the months, traffic is not allowed beyond a certain point.

Klisavage said she got her first oil delivery since February last week. The oil company put a tank in the back of a pickup truck and used a garden hose to pump it into her storage tank. "It took an hour and a half," she said. "It was a great relief. If something happens to the road now, at least I know I will have heat."

Flayhart said the road could not support a regular-size oil delivery truck.

The hardship proved to be somewhat of an adventure for Klisavage's three children - Chris, 12; Lauren, 11; and Katie, 4. Lauren talked about their occasional use of the golf cart that the town provided for residents of High Street to go up and down the hill. "Yeah, that was big fun," Lauren said.

"Another positive," Klisavage said, "is that we got to know our neighbors better as we were forced to walk up and down the hill instead of driving."

Bill Eldred, the town's economic development director, said Coastal Drilling of West Virginia has been selected to do the work.

The project is expected to cost $921,000 and take three to four months.

Eldred said the initial contract does not call for reconstruction of the bridge that serves the one house at the end of High Street.

"Our priority is to get the wall stabilized and get the road fixed," he said. "Right now we can't get a firetruck or an ambulance up to those homes on High Street. The Number 1 issue is to get High Street stabilized; that is a safety factor."

Flayhart said that about 300 feet of the about 700-foot-long wall would have to be reinforced. It is primarily the sections that run behind Town Hall and the Presbyterian Church on Main Street, he said.

Flayhart said that sections of precast concrete would be anchored into the bedrock to support the sagging wall. Once the retaining wall is solid again, the street will be repaired.

He said that the new sections of wall will not look the same as the old stone wall but that this could be corrected as the town comes up with the money to add a stone facade.

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