As the sinkhole on Weber Avenue in Lackawanna widened, Sharon Kysor became more concerned that someone might twist an ankle stepping into it.
Kysor called the city and figured a road crew would be dispatched to fix the hole, which measured about 3 feet in diameter and 6 inches deep.
Little did she know she’d end up in court and ordered to pay $2,000 for the repair.
Even worse, the sinkhole now appears to be returning – leaving Kysor with the sinking feeling she might have to shell out even more cash to fix the problem a second time.
“If it was fixed, it wouldn’t happen. If it was fixed it should be totally perfect and it’s not. It’s happening again,” she said.
Sinkholes have been leaving an impression on other city streets, as well, causing Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski to question whether the sewer system is being properly maintained.
The Erie County Division of Sewerage Management is responsible for about 1,000 miles of sewer pipes throughout the county, including in Lackawanna.
But as with local water systems, homeowners are expected to pay for repairs to lateral lines that connect into the county’s main sewer pipes.
A test on the Weber Avenue sinkhole – in which dyed water was poured into the hole while cameras in the pipes tracked where it flowed – revealed a leak in the lateral line from Kysor’s home, said Joseph Fiegl, deputy commissioner for the Division of Sewerage Management.
County engineers determined that a crack in the lateral pipe was the likely cause of erosion underneath the pavement that led to the sinkhole, Fiegl said.
But Kysor said the plumber she hired found nothing wrong with her lateral line when he examined it with a scoping device from her house to the main line in the street.
And another licensed engineer said the sinkhole was unlikely to have resulted from a problem with Kysor’s lateral line, especially because at least three other sinkholes – albeit less severe ones– formed on the same street.
In addition, the hole seems to be reappearing – Kysor’s engineer measured a half-inch depression in the same spot six months after the area was completely dug up, the plumbing replaced and the road repaved – bolstering her contention that the lateral was not the cause.
“Somewhere there’s a groundwater issue of some kind that’s causing this problem,” said Anthony Anderson, the engineer.
Sinkholes have popped up in other parts of the city, too.
Milnor Avenue resident Guy Masocco paid $4,600 to have a lateral line and sinkhole repaired in front of his house.
He later learned that the repaired line went to a neighbor’s home, so he sued the city for reimbursement. City Court Judge Louis Violanti decided to split the expense, ordering the city to pay Masocco $2,300. Meanwhile, the city sued the neighbor on Milnor for $1,200.
“It’s a mess,” said Masocco.
Violanti split up the costs in Kysor’s case, too, after the city sued her over the $4,094 bill a private contractor gave the city for work on Weber Avenue.
Kysor, who receives disability and is on a fixed income, ended up paying $2,047.
“They county washed their hands of it. They said they weren’t responsible,” she said. “I had to use my savings … I don’t have the opportunity to go out and make extra money.”
Kysor fears she’ll have to go through another ordeal if the small divot grows into another sinkhole.
“It’s a valid concern,” said Anderson. “She doesn’t want to end up in court a few years from now because the pavement is opening up again in front of her house.”
Szymanski said he’s noticed more sinkholes recently, particularly in the 2nd Ward where he lives.
“Why are we having a systematic failure of laterals?” said Szymanski.
In the cases that have gone to City Court, Lackawanna taxpayers ended up paying half the cost of the repairs.
The city turned over ownership of its sewer system to the county in the early 1980s, when Bethlehem Steel closed and property taxes from the plant plunged, leaving a gigantic hole in the city’s budget.
The system in the Lackawanna sewer district consists primarily of clay tile piping, which was used prior to the introduction of PVC pipe.
“Generally the sewer system in Lackawanna is of older vintage,” said Fiegl. “Generally you do have issues with sinkholes in older communities.”