The recent failure of a stormwater line running along southbound McKnight Road that caused the road leading to an apartment complex to collapse into a sinkhole was not a surprise.
For years, Ross Township officials have urged property owners along the busy commercial corridor to fix the underground line that takes rainwater from their buildings and discharges it into Girty’s Run.
In July 2017, a section of a 60-inch stormwater pipe broke near McKnight and Siebert roads, sending water pooling into the intersection and stranding several vehicles, including one that caught fire.
Several years before that, the storm sewer along the front of the former Chi-Chi’s restaurant property on McKnight caused a sinkhole that nearly swallowed a vehicle.
“We’ve known about this problem for a several years and tried to get the property owners to see the value in upgrading the lines before they break,” said Steve Korbel, president of the Ross Township Board of Commissioners. “I think we’re at the point where simply asking them to repair the lines isn’t enough. We have to come up with some sort of plan, a hammer if you will, to compel them to do the work.”
The extent of the problem has been known since at least 2012, when the township snaked cameras through the line to determine their condition.
Property owners whose lines were in poor shape were shown the video and asked to make the necessary repairs, but there was no requirement that they do the work.
But in the future, those requests to fix the problem could turn into orders that carry a penalty for those who fail to comply.
Following the June 11 storm line collapse that created a 10-foot hole in the ground measuring about 30-feet-by-10 feet in circumference at the entrance to the Waldorf Park apartments, the board asked the township’s engineer, its solicitor and the director of public works to come up with a list of options on how best to deal with the problem in the future.
“All of our township commissioners agree that we need to find a solution to this problem,” Korbel said. “There are many opinions as to what should be done, but it is too early to say what approach or approaches will be best.”
Township officials have repeatedly noted that maintenance and repair of the storm sewer along McKnight Road is the responsibility of the property owner because the lines were installed over time by developers.
While Korbel said he is open to suggestions about how to correct the problem, he is adamant about the township not picking up the tab.
“That approach will cost millions of dollars plus the ongoing cost of maintenance,” he said. “I won’t support any plan that requires a cut in services we provide or an increase in taxes. I don’t think our residents should have pay to repair a private sewer line that primarily serves businesses and wealthy landlords.”