Neighbors want action on excavation slide in Irwin

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Two owners of buildings in Irwin are concerned that excavation by a neighbor is threatening their properties.

A letter from borough engineer Lucien Bove dated Jan. 22 says buildings owned by Paul Miller and Stephen Makosey on either side of the S&T Bank parking lot off Western Alley could be "adversely affected" by earth movement started by excavation on the Pete Alfieri property.

Mr. Bove quoted an inspection report from geotechnical engineers at J. Scott Bush Co. P.C. saying an "active slide" was started by excavation of the "toe" of the hill on the property.

At that time, he recommended the owners of the parking lot, Duncan Financial Group, be informed of the problem.

"We recommend that the owners of these properties also be informed that occupancy of their buildings may need to be restricted for the safety, health and welfare of the occupants and the general public, especially if the conditions worsen," Mr. Bove's letter said.

Mr. Miller, who owns RunCom Computers at the western end of Third Street, and Mr. Makosey, who owns a warehouse at the other end of the S&T Bank parking lot, came to last week's council meeting to ask what the borough is doing to remedy the slide problem.

Mr. Makosey and his father, James Makosey, own about 15 classic cars that are stored in the warehouse.

According to the Makoseys and Mr. Miller, problems with the slope started when Mr. Alfieri, the owner of a building at the bottom of the slope near Tinker's Run, removed the toe of the hillside behind their buildings.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Alfieri removed trees and their roots from the slope in August. Mr. Makosey said Mr. Alfieri proceeded with significant earth removal from the hillside in October.

According to Jim Halfhill, public works superintendent, Mr. Alfieri had been given permission to remove brush and do a small amount of digging to find gas and water lines on the property, but he wasn't authorized to do any significant earth moving.

After the parking lot cracked and sank several inches, Mr. Halfhill closed the parking lot for 24 hours on Jan. 21 so an engineer could make sure no borough stormwater or sewer lines were leaking and causing the parking lot to sink.

When inspection determined no sewer lines were leaking, Mr. Halfhill reopened the parking lot, but the owner immediately closed it again, Mr. Halfhill said.

Mr. Halfhill said on Nov. 5, he hand-delivered an order to Mr. Alfieri to stop digging and have a licensed geotechnical engineer come up with a plan to stop the slide.

He said he reissued the order Dec. 21.

"As of today, there's no response whatsoever," Mr. Halfhill said Monday.

At the Feb. 13 Irwin council meeting, solicitor Todd Turin said he will look into whether any borough ordinances were violated and whether Mr. Alfieri can be cited.

Mr. Miller, Stephen Makosey and James Makosey all indicated they were disappointed the borough did not take action sooner to correct the problem.

Stephen Makosey said his father first met with Mr. Halfhill with his concerns about the grading July 26.

When excavations continued and the Makoseys did not receive any engineering plans, James Makosey attended the Sept. 12 Irwin council meeting, his son said. Stephen Makosey said Mr. Halfhill said Nov. 9 that there were no engineering plans, but more of a "plan to go forward."

After Mr. Miller contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection, DEP officials said they would test fill being taken from the site. However, in the end, both DEP officials and employees of the Westmoreland Conservation District said Irwin has regulatory authority over the problem, the men said.

Stephen Makosey, an engineer for Alcoa, said it may be necessary to install a wall with anchors going back into the hillside to stop the slide.

He said the engineering measures needed to stop the slide will cost more than Mr. Alfieri's property is worth.

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Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:


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