When It Rains, It’s Porous
By JENNIFER BLEYER, NY Times
DAN RAIA thinks that the Pelham Gardens section of the northeast Bronx is sinking, and as proof he points to the hole in the concrete driveway at his boxy brick house.
Nor was the chasm, 7 feet wide and 4 feet deep, the first sinkhole in that spot. Last April, shortly after part of Tiemann Avenue was repaved by the city’s Transportation Department, a hole appeared in the driveway after a northeaster. Mr. Raia, a 45-year-old facilities engineer who has lived on Tiemann for seven years, scrambled to fill the hole with topsoil.
After another storm, the hole reappeared, at which point he filled it with gravel. Then the rain came again, as did the sinkhole, even larger than before.
Now Mr. Raia has cordoned off the hole with plastic trash bins and yellow caution tape while he tries to figure out who or what is responsible.
“We never had this problem before they repaved the street,” Mr. Raia said, gazing mournfully at the hole through his living room window.
His sinkhole is not the only neighborhood mystery. Since the storm last April, at least a half-dozen people who live within a few blocks of Mr. Raia have reported structural damage to their homes. Paula Gelman’s house, which is across the street, shifted so suddenly during the storm that its basement dropped and its foundation cracked, at which point a Buildings Department staff member ordered her and her husband, David, to vacate the property.
Despite residents’ suggestions that the problems were caused by a combination of water main leaks and poor street drainage, neither the city’s Department of Environmental Protection nor the Transportation Department has confirmed the theory.
City environmental workers have surveyed local sewers several times, as recently as Monday. But the agency found no leaks, according to Mercedes Padilla, a department spokeswoman. And at the Transportation Department, Craig Chin, a spokesman, insisted that the repaving project could not have caused the problem, in part because it had been noticed before last spring.
Another popular theory is that underground streams, fed by rainwater, have caused the land to shift. But there is no proof of this theory, either. The mystery deepened Wednesday when a gas line ruptured on Tiemann Avenue; Con Edison inspectors said the break was due to soil erosion.
The Gelmans, who have lived on Tiemann Avenue since 1985, had their house shored up by a structural engineer after the foundation cracked, and for nearly a year they have lived with Mr. Gelman’s mother on nearby Pelham Parkway, unable to return to their home. Now Con Ed has cut off the gas.
“We’d paid our mortgage off,” Mrs. Gelman, who is 60, said as she inspected the wreckage. “That’s our entire life.”