Old retaining wall continues to worry river town residents

PORT DEPOSIT — PORT DEPOSIT - As construction workers begin shoring up a big section of the century-old retaining wall that has threatened to fall since February, there is concern among residents and officials in this Susquehanna River town that another section of the wall might also be in danger of tumbling.

"It's scary," said Lisa Von Brauen, who lives on Main Street, about a block from Town Hall and near High Street - where tons of the granite wall were removed in May to prevent it from falling on homes below.


"We hear a lot of cracking and popping in the wall at night. The house shakes. One night it woke my husband up," she said.

Von Brauen said she has heard rock falling from the wall, portions of which rise behind her 160-year-old house.


She said she and her husband, Garrett, tore down sections of a 10-foot high portion of the wall that stands about 6 feet from her home because it was crumbling.

Mayor Robert Flayhart is keeping a close eye on the new development. "Something is happening up there," he said of the section of wall just south of where a one-lane bridge serving a single home collapsed last year. "But we're not sure what."

He said he has noticed water seeping out of sections of the wall where there had been no water.

"That's a major concern," he said. "When water freezes, it expands. ... That freezing could cause a major disaster."

Flayhart inspects the wall nearly every day. He said he looks for signs of bowing or bulging.

"I look for stones that are being pushed out of the wall and water seepage in new areas," he said.

"By eye, I can't tell if there has been any movement. I can't tell if there is any bulging of the wall like in the other section now being repaired," he said.

That's not unusual; movement can be slight, according to Geoffrey V. Kolberg, an engineer with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP in Baltimore.


He said that when the company set up equipment in February to measure movement in the section of wall that showed signs of collapsing, it detected change of about one-100th of an inch a week.

He said one section of the wall, behind Town Hall, then began moving one-10th of an inch a week, then two-10ths.

Flayhart said during a conference call last week that the town wants equipment brought in to measure any new movement. Rummel, Klepper & Kahl and Schnabel Engineering Associates, another company involved in the project, agreed during that call to try to find a geologist who could assess the damage.

In the meantime, the town is looking for a new source of revenue to fund repairs.

Bill Eldred, the town director of economic development, is working on the town's application for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s new Priority Places anti-sprawl program. The program seeks to steer development away from green field sites to established towns.

Projects selected by the state are offered coordinated technical help from state agencies and fast-track regulatory review, and are put at the head of the list for funds from state grants that become available.


"Our vision is to restore our past and build a prosperous future," Eldred wrote in the application.

Sections of the town's retaining wall first showed signs of collapse Feb. 5. The wall supports High Street, a dead-end road that climbs a hill behind homes on Main Street. There are about a dozen homes on High Street.

The fear then was that if the retaining wall fell, High Street and some of the homes along it could fall, too. There was also concern that rubble from the wall could damage homes along Main Street.

Over the summer, construction workers removed the section of the wall that posed the biggest threat of falling.

On Friday morning, workers with Coastal Drilling East, the Morgantown, W.Va., company hired to repair the wall, began moving drilling equipment into place along High Street.

Flayhart said the plan is to drill holes through the restored wall and into the bedrock below the road. Steel anchors will be forced into the holes to secure the wall.


After the wall is secured, the road will be repaired.

Flayhart said the work is scheduled to be completed in early February.

Meanwhile, it has been a difficult year for residents of High Street.

Kathy Klisavage said she has not been able to park her car near her home for about 11 months because High Street is closed to traffic. She has had to lug groceries and other purchases up the hill from a parking area off Main Street.

"You learn after a while," she said in October, "not to buy a gallon of milk and laundry detergent at the same time. That makes the load too heavy to carry up the hill."

Donald Poist, a 72-year-old resident, town councilman and former mayor, said residents of Port Deposit "are accustomed to hardship." He recalled numerous floods, some of which climbed halfway up his living room wall.


"But we survive," he said in October. "We're as tough as the Port Deposit granite used to build that wall."