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Survey of Grafius Run damage begins with horror tale of sewage

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Grafius Run as it crosses Bloomingrove Road.

The city has begun to survey residents living near or too close for comfort to Grafius Run, and the stories shared Friday would send shivers down one’s spine.

Two residents living in the 500 block of Hawthorne Avenue said water and waste system overflows have gotten into their homes during floods of Grafius Run, which goes beneath the ground in the north end of the city.

“Surface water I can deal with … it’s the sewage and not being able to use the bathroom when you need it,” said Wahneeta Welter, 81, of 503 Hawthorne Ave.

She and neighbor, Betsy Battles, of 501 Hawthorne, shared the morning they watched Cherry Street resemble a river early on Oct. 21, 2016.

Battles recorded video at 1:21 a.m. that day, hours after a storm dumped 4 inches of rain in one hour.

Watersheds north of the city recorded 7 to 9 inches of water in just a few hours, straining the drainage system through the city’s north end.

Welter sustained plumber costs to replace a shut-off valve, and some loss of appliances.

Over the years, she’s been an advocate for her neighbors, including doing a door-to-door circulation of getting signatures on a petition she gave to previous city councils.

On Friday, she handed her damage assessment list to Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies Inc., the city economic development consultant.

Fitzgerald said the surveys will be distributed by people with the city streets and parks department and city planning department.

It is an effort by city officials to gather damage estimates going back 10 years, he said.

The run is a major problem for residents in this part of the city. It comes down in two branches from the hills of Loyalsock Township and goes beneath the city once it gets to the city boundary. It flows beneath Elmira and Market streets and eventually dumps into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

The overflows, either caused by trapped debris unable to be removed quickly enough by operators of heavy machinery at the two trash racks or seepage from older underground pipes, some 80 to 100 years old, leads to widespread damage, wet basements, silt-covered floors and, in the case of Welter, some wet sewage to clean up.

Welter and Battles, while exasperated by the past short-term bandages to reduce flooding, are upbeat about the survey and the potential for grant money to pay for engineering and design of flood-mitigation from a regional perspective.

“If people are not home, the survey will be put on the door or mailbox,” Fitzgerald said.

“This is the start of a process to get the damage assessment for residents, hear their stories, put this information down and present it to the state Department of Environmental Protection,” he said.

The department is asking for seven components from the consultant: a survey, a hydrolic analysis, hydraulic analysis, preliminary project design, economic justification, and environmental-historical impact, he said.

Fitzgerald said his goal will be to brief the council public works department on the progress of the survey.

The information needs to be turned over to state Sen. Gene Yaw, R, Loyalsock Township, in September, Fitzgerald said. The plan is to have Yaw put the damage estimate into the state capital projects budget, he said.

“If we don’t get this done by September, residents will have to wait another two years,” Fitzgerald said.

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