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Township project wrecks couple's yard, property in Hempfield

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 12:13 a.m.
Matt Emanuele said his driveway and yard were damaged when Hempfield Township attempted to fix flooding problems in the area. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
A tributary of Brush Creek runs through the Emanueles yard in Hempfield Township on Dec. 7, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Matt Emanuele displays a photo showing how his yard looked before Hempfield Township attempted to fix flooding problems in the area. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Matt and Kim Emanuele have been waiting for more than a year for Hempfield to repair the damage done to their property after a township excavation project turned a trickle of water running through it into a creek.

A shallow, 1-foot-wide trench has swelled to a stream several feet wide and several feet deep, they said, fed by runoff from Himler Road.

The work went beyond the scope of a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Jim Pillsbury, an engineer with the Westmoreland Conservation District. In a separate project, the township failed to obtain a permit before workers created a pond at Hempfield Park and damaged nearby wetlands.

“They made a mess in their yard,” Pillsbury said. “The township did that work but without much assistance from our technical-assistance people and messed things up.”

The problems began last year when the township installed two pipes under Himler Road to replace broken pipes and to install a culvert. Then township workers went onto the Emanueles' property and not only enlarged the trench but diverted the route of the unnamed tributary of Brush Creek that winds through it, they said.

Matt Emanuele said the workers dredged the trench on his property 50 feet in both directions, then the excavating machine became stuck in the mud and had to be pulled by a tow truck. The weight of the vehicles damaged their driveway and knocked over a tree, he said.

“They were not supposed to go that deep,” he said.

As a result, the Emanueles said they can no longer drive a tractor to the other side of their property to cut grass and vegetation.

“It's been a year, and I haven't seen a township truck out here since,” Matt Emanuele said. “You should have seen the way the yard used to be.”

Any work done in a stream requires a DEP permit that can be obtained through the conservation district. Township officials typically know that such a permit is required, Pillsbury said.

“Hempfield Township had a permit to do the work, but they went beyond the approval in the permit,” he said.

Public work projects are overseen by Supervisor Jerry Fagert, who was involved in the township's failure to obtain a DEP permit before workers damaged the wetlands in Hempfield Park earlier this year. That failure could result in a state fine.

Fagert did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

The new pipes the township installed caused a dip in the roadway. To correct the problem, township workers widened the curve on Himler Road, using part of the Emanueles' yard.

“They took away my front yard,” Kim Emanuele said.

The Emanueles said the township promised to restore their property. They said the work on the project and remediation started in October 2011 and continued on and off for two months.

“They just left it,” Kim Emanuele said.

Township attorney Les Mlakar said Hempfield is willing to repair the damage.

“We have prepared a plan which we submitted to them,” he said.”We will proceed with the plan. They have not yet approved the plan. We will fix everything within reason. We've said that.”

The Emanueles want the township to extend the pipes another 75 feet and then cover them so they can access the rest of their property.

Mike Volpe, township director of public works, said Hempfield's work permit from the Westmoreland Conservation District was limited to installation of the pipes to their property line.

“Everything is at a stalemate,” Volpe said. “(Kim Emanuele) felt she was promised more than what we did.”

Volpe said he's waiting for orders on what to do next.

The Emanueles said they talked to supervisors John Silvis and Tom Logan but have not heard from either since.

Silvis confirmed that he spoke to the Emanueles. “Yes, I talked to them. I didn't blow them off,” he said.

Logan did not respond to a request for comment.

Pillsbury said the township had good intentions, but “the end result wasn't near what they wanted.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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