Specialized DEP crew needed for N. Belle Vernon subsidence

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 7:40 a.m.

North Belle Vernon officials said Thursday that local state Department of Environmental Protection officials are calling in a more specialized crew to assess damage caused by mine subsidence in the borough.

The subsidence occurred early Wednesday morning. Mayor Ed Lyons and police Chief Jim Bedsworth said they were notified approximately 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The subsidence occurred between Baltimore and Vine streets in Lynn Alley, which runs parallel to Speer and Green streets.

Dennis Hill, borough street department superintendent, said the affected area is approximately 75 by 80 feet, or 6,000 square feet. He said the alley way dropped nearly 3 feet.

Three garages and four yards were affected.

A day later, the ground was still settling.

“You could see the cracks in the ground, but they weren't spread this far apart yesterday,” Bedsworth said. “You can tell it fell some more.”

“I think it's done,” council President Dennis Simboli said. “ I don't think it's going to go any further. It's no surprise that it dropped a little bit more. Everything is sliding back into the hole.”

Simboli, who said he has nearly 30 years experience in the mining industry, said the subsidence is likely an intersection fall in the shaft.

“The general rule is, the deeper the mine, the deeper the fall above,” Simboli said.

He estimated the mine is 25 to 30 feet beneath the surface.

“There's no telling how far it goes until they come in and drill it,” Simboli said of the DEP. “The first thing is they have to get is easements from the homeowners to get permission to go on to the property to drill. I don't think that will be a problem, though.

“We really dodged a bullet, because all of the gas and water lines are on the main street. This could have been a real mess. We're lucky it stayed in the alley and didn't hit the front streets.”

“In some respects, we dodged a bullet,” Lyons added.

Simboli said the borough has two stormwater catch basins in the alley, and that they are probably destroyed.

“Who knows, the pipes could have survived,” he said. “We won't know anything until the DEP gets in there and assesses the situation. More than likely, though, the pipes went with it.”

Hill said the DEP crew that responded to the scene Wednesday said that the job was too big and that they needed to call in a crew from Cambria County.

“They weren't there Thursday,” the mayor said. “I think it's a matter of them getting all the equipment in place. It seems like they wanted to get this on a fast track.

“I really have to give accolades to Mr. Hill. He had everyone out here pretty quick. The DEP, the water company, Peoples Gas ... they were all here pretty quick.”

The borough will be responsible for fixing the roadway, Simboli said.

“We will incur all the costs involved with rebuilding the roadway, asphalt, and catch basins,” he said.

Homeowners are responsible for their property. It is unclear if any of the affected homeowners carry mine subsidence insurance through the DEP. Lyons said Wednesday that he spoke to one homeowner who did not have coverage.

Simboli said there is an agency that will give small loans with low interest rates to those affected by mine subsidence.

“It's a shame this had to happen while people are just getting ready for the holidays,” Lyons said. “It seems like every time we get it together here in town we get hit with another uppercut.”

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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