Crucial wall keeps river town worrying

As segment is repaired, another shows weakness

December 19, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT - As construction workers begin shoring up a big section of the century-old retaining wall that has threatened to fall since February, there is concern among residents and officials in this Susquehanna River town that another section of the wall might also be in danger of tumbling.

"It's scary," said Lisa Von Brauen, who lives on Main Street, about a block from town hall and near High Street - where tons of the granite wall were removed in May to prevent it from falling on homes below.

"We hear a lot of cracking and popping in the wall at night. The house shakes. One night it woke my husband up," she said.

Von Brauen said she has heard rock falling from the wall, portions of which rise behind her 160-year-old house.

She said she and her husband, Garrett, tore down sections of a 10-foot-high portion of the wall that stands about 6 feet from her home because it was crumbling.

Mayor Robert Flayhart is keeping a close eye on the new development. "Something is happening up there," he said of the section of wall just south of where a one-lane bridge serving a single home collapsed last year. "But we're not sure what."

He said he has noticed water seeping out of sections of the wall where there had been no water.

"That's a major concern," he said. "When water freezes, it expands. ... That freezing could cause a major disaster."

Flayhart inspects the wall nearly every day. He said he looks for signs of bowing or bulging.

"By eye, I can't tell if there has been any movement. I can't tell if there is any bulging of the wall like in the other section now being repaired," he said.

That's not unusual; movement can be slight, according to Geoffrey V. Kolberg, an engineer with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP in Baltimore.

He said that when the company set up equipment in February to measure movement in the section of wall that showed signs of collapsing, it detected movement of about one-hundredth of an inch a week.

He said one section of the wall, behind Town Hall, then began moving one-tenth an inch a week, then two-tenths.

Sections of the town's retaining wall first showed signs of collapse Feb. 5. The wall supports High Street, a dead-end road that climbs a hill behind homes on Main Street. The fear then was that if the retaining wall fell, High Street and some of the homes along it could fall, too. There was also concern that rubble from the wall could damage homes along Main Street.

Over the summer, construction workers removed the section of the wall that posed the biggest threat of falling.

On Friday morning, workers with Coastal Drilling East, the Morgantown, W.Va., company hired to repair the wall, began moving drilling equipment into place along High Street.

Flayhart said the plan is to drill holes through the restored wall and into the bedrock below the road. Steel anchors will be forced into the holes to secure the wall. After the wall is secured, High Street will be repaired.

The work is scheduled to be completed in early February.

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