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North Irwin officials unsure if road problem is theirs

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star A serious road slide has develped along Ridge Avenue in North Irwin. This photo was taken from Ridge Avenue between Ridge and Third Street.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star A serious road slide has develped along Ridge Avenue in North Irwin. This photo was taken from Ridge Avenue between Ridge and Third Street.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Norwin Star A serious road slide has develped along Ridge Avenue in North Irwin. This photo was taken from Ridge Avenue between Ridge and Third Street.

A section of Ridge Avenue in North Irwin is crumbling under a harsh winter.

But before the officials authorize repairs for a slide that caused a several-inch wide fissure to form along the road, they want to find out the cause — and more importantly — whether the borough is responsible for paying for the work.

In early fall, the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County repaired two underground water line leaks along the road, backfilled the trenches used to access the lines and patched the road surface, according to Lucien Bove, the borough's engineer.

“A short time after the work was done, the road surface sunk a bit, which is fairly common when new fill begins to settle,” he said. “So they came back out and did some more patching.”

However, about a month later, a roughly 90-foot long crack began to develop along the side of the street after a portion of the hill between Ridge and 3rd Street began to shift, Bove said.

“I can't say that the water line work caused the slide,” Bove said. “It could be the result of another underground leak that wasn't detected. It could be a natural spring that's causing the problem, or it can be something else entirely.”

Representatives from the county water authority did not return several messages seeking comment.

The section of the damaged roadway has been blocked off to keep vehicles from driving over it and cold patch was spread to prevent water from seeping into the gap and causing more problems.

Bove is recommending that the borough hire a geologist to try to determine what caused the slide.

But council is concerned about spending money to repair a problem for which it may not be responsible.

If water is leaking from a residential water line, the homeowner could be held responsible for the cost of repairing the slide and roadway, borough officials said.

“If this was not really caused by us, are we responsible for fixing their property?” asked Councilwoman Gina Sonnik at a recent council meeting. “It's not that we wouldn't want to work with them, but we need to figure that out.”

A quote from the J Scott Bush Co. in Redstone, Fayette County, estimated that it will cost about $12,850 to bore holes into the ground and analyze the material below the surface to try to determine a cause and how it should be repaired.

After several members of council balked at the price tag during a recent meeting, Bove was instructed to seek two additional quotes.

The mayor wants council to consider doing the work in-house.

“We just don't have the money,” said Mayor Jim Douglas. “We're talking about a side street, not a main road, so we need to at least consider whether our guys are able to fix it.”

Borough manager Adele Nehas said there is no money in the budget for a major road reconstruction project.

The borough will receive $18,061 this year from the tax the state collects on liquid fuels, but that money already is earmarked for buying road salt, patching streets and paying the bill “to keep the streetlights on,” she said.

“If we have to do a major repair, the best we could hope for is some sort of grant to cover it,” Nehas said.

Even if the municipality could do the work, Bove advises against it without first obtaining the geological analysis.

“Without knowing what the problem is, it's hard to know what the best remedy is,” he said. “You could end up doing the work and still have the problem, or even make it worse, which I would hate to see happen.”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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