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Mayor's spokesman apologizes for slow sinkhole response - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

Mayor's spokesman apologizes for slow sinkhole response

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson's spokesperson apologized for the city's slow response to a massive sinkhole that formed on New Year's Eve, forcing more than two dozen residents from their homes and allowing looters to steal and vandalize several properties.

Bob Philbin answered tough questions from city council members at a public works committee meeting that focused on the North 4th Street sinkhole and the 41 additional sinkhole sites around the city.

"It's not a full-blown emergency. We're really good at that --- the city's really good at that," Philbin said. "This was a smaller, more manageable emergency, and I think we do need to react faster."

Committee chair Sandra Reid called on Philbin to present council with a plan in the coming weeks for how to respond, better communicate and move residents in a timely manner when such emergencies occur.

"Hopefully this will send a very clear message to this administration that we cannot operate a city without an emergency plan," Reid said. "We just raised taxes. Earned income taxes just went up, and these people are paying more in taxes, so we need to provide the services."

Public Works director Kevin Hagerich also answered questions about his department's response to the sinkhole. He said the situation was changing by the hour, as the hole opened and continued to grow.

Hagerich told council members it will cost between $550,000 and $600,000 to fully repair the site, taking a huge chunk out of his department's yearly budget.

The Harrisburg Authority, which finances capital improvement projects in the city, said it is prepared to step in with reserve funds if similar situations arise in the coming months.

"We do have reserve funds on hand for water and potentially sewer," Harrisburg Authority engineer Shannon Williams said. "This level is unprecedented -- and as a resident of the city, I'm concerned about this level of cost in one block and I think we need to prepare ourselves for a large investment in our city infrastructure."

Williams presented council with a plan to build a GIS mapping system and database to closely monitor the city's aging infrastructure, which will be financed through loans and grants secured by the Harrisburg Authority.

"So when we have to turn off a water valve, for example, all residents affected would automatically receive a reverse 911 call," Williams said.

Hagerich said he has allotted $55,000 in his budget to install a camera inside the city's sewer lines to help detect aging pipes and other public works issues, but stressed there is no surefire way to prevent sinkholes from forming.

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