By Juliet Martinez, managing editor
Left: At the Nov. 1 meeting in Lincoln Place, from left: Pat Webb and Roger Rummel from the DEP abandoned mine program, Rep. Nick Pisciottano and Sen. Jay Costa. Middle: More than 100 residents filled the basement of Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church at the Nov. 1 meetings. Right: On Nov. 7, the outside wall of the Lincoln Place Veterans of Foreign Wars post showed stair-step cracks as a result of mine subsidence.
Lincoln Place residents face a terrifying prospect. Their homes could shift and sink from a recent mine subsidence. So far, it affects several structures near Interboro Avenue, Leaside Drive and H Way. Owners of the affected homes and Department of Environmental Protection officials are urging those without mine subsidence insurance to get it now.
Mine subsidence insurance is inexpensive and available to any property owner in areas that are undermined. But it can only pay to restore a home to its condition at the time the owner buys the policy. It does not work retroactively.
The problem began on the morning of Oct. 18, when cracks were found in the walls and floor of the Lincoln Place Veterans of Foreign Wars post at 5132 Interboro Ave. The building was condemned shortly thereafter. Within days, homeowners nearby noticed their homes were shifting too.
On Nov. 1, more than 100 people packed the basement of Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church to hear from state and local officials about what would be done to address the mine subsidence.
Pat Webb directs the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Land program for abandoned pre-1977 coal mines in the Department of Environmental Protection. At the Nov. 1 meeting, he laid out the plan to stabilize the ground.
First, the contractor will bore 4-inch holes 140 feet down to the mine. Then they will pump concrete down until it fills the space. Mr. Webb’s office had already awarded the contract to Mount Morris-based Coastal Drilling East, LLC., for a bid of $1.1 million. The company will repeat this process four times on each property affected by the mine subsidence.
Mr. Webb said the contractor would stabilize 10 structures. Eight of these had sustained damage and two were close enough to be at risk, according to a Nov. 16 email from DEP regional communication manager Lauren Camarda.
Mr. Webb said the drilling will help them learn more about the situation in the abandoned mine. It could be an empty void, a cave-in or a mine that was backfilled before it was closed down. What they find will affect the concrete mix they use to fill the space.
“If it's open void, it's going to get a thicker mix,” he said, but if the space is caved in or filled, the concrete mix will be looser so it can permeate the gaps in the rubble. He said he expected the work to last up to three months.
But stabilizing the mine is not the same as fixing the damage to the homes. Homeowners without mine subsidence insurance are on the hook for costly repairs to their foundations and more.
Russell Dongilli said at the meeting that a structural engineer told him repairs to his Interboro Avenue home could run $50,000-$100,000.
He said the state should make mine subsidence mandatory and have a program to help homeowners who do not have it. They did not create the mines that lie deep below the surface of Lincoln Place and much of the rest of the region.
“We’re all in this zone of danger," he said.
Property owners can visit www.dep.pa.gov/msi to find out if their home is undermined and learn about affordable policies to protect their homes. Ms. Camarda wrote that the department encourages homeowners to buy mine subsidence insurance coverage at 20% greater than the replacement value of the home. For example, coverage on a $100,000 home would cost less than $30 per year with a 10% discount for seniors. Coverage for a $1 million home would cost a little over $250 per year.
Nicole Anderson, who lives on Interboro Avenue near Leaside Drive, said at the Nov. 1 meeting that she did not have mine subsidence insurance. She also asked why it is not mandatory in undermined areas. She had been planning about $30,000 of repairs on her home and garage before the mine subsidence occurred. Now she faces a much higher repair bill.
She urged everyone to get coverage.
“If you can't afford mine subsidence insurance, you can't afford to buy a house,” she said.