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Months after Harrisburg wall collapse: 'potential loss of life'; tire business closing

HARRISBURG—For five months, Howard Henry has been waiting for someone to start cleaning up the tons of debris that was dumped onto his tire shop when a wall collapsed near the Mulberry Street Bridge.

He’s tried to work around the dirt, concrete and asphalt that caved in a portion of his roof. He even paid for a clever advertising campaign He even paid for a clever advertising campaign that incorporated the wall collapse to let customers know he was still open.

But this week, Henry had to close his doors, lay off 12 employees and shut down his business because it is no longer considered safe for him or his employees to be inside.

Henry is planning a 10 a.m. news conference Friday to provide further details about engineering reports he received this week that warned of “potential loss of life from the potential failure of the McFarland Building facade.”

The reports, obtained by PennLive, reveal that the owners of The McFarland apartments, Isaac Dohany and Jacob Friedman of New Jersey, have not taken any action recommended by their own engineer to avoid further collapse of the wall or collapse of their building next to the wall.

The engineer hired by McFarland, Bruce Ensor, identified cracks in the building’s foundation and long-term water damage and drainage problems that require shoring and repairs before the building is safe. The building was evacuated in late June after the city condemned it. A second McFarland apartment building farther back from the collapse remains occupied.

Specifically, Ensor’s report recommended removal or shoring of a damaged, exposed concrete slab in between the wall that collapsed and the apartment building “so that if the slab collapses, it does not impart force onto the remaining wall of the building.”

Ensor also recommended that the owners of The McFarland cover the exposed wall with geo-fabric, “to prevent water saturation on the remaining material and further collapse.”

PennDOT workers even left rolls of the fabric for the owners in their parking lot after using some of it within their right of way.

The report was dated May 10— five days after the collapse, yet no action has been taken more than five months later.

Instead, the wall collapsed a second time June 25 during heavy rains, which washed a new wave of dirt and debris into Henry’s warehouse collapsing his roof and back wall. He says the additional damage could have been avoided if McFarland had acted upon its own engineer report.

Ensor provided more than 20 recommendations addressing deficiencies with the building, including voids under the sub-basement, thin or deteriorating concrete and signs of horizontal shifting.

He noted in his May 10 report that water is a contributing factor in foundation and retention wall failures and that “unknown variables such as future weather conditions (heavy rains), flooding and further collapse could make this structure un-safe if the recommended precautions are not adhered to.”

An engineer hired by Henry was more explicit.

“I am concerned that the potential for failure of the McFarland Building facade is an imminent danger to the Hoa Le building and your building,” Robert Desmarais Jr. wrote on Oct. 5, “unless immediate action is taken to address the water infiltration, and the structural concerns and recommended repairs cited in Mr. Ensor’s report.”

It was this report that caused Henry to shutter his business on Wednesday. He told his employees to apply for unemployment benefits. Henry said he could not in good conscience allow his employees to work there with the potential risk outlined by several engineers.

Although the McFarland apartments parking lot collapsed onto Henry’s shop, the owners continue to deny ownership of the wall that had propped up the parking lot.

The company attorney, Adam Klein, has not said who they think does own the wall if it’s not Dohany and Friedman. Klein did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning.

The entity that ends up owning the wall or being responsible for the collapse is facing millions in cleanup costs and damages.

PennDOT owns the adjacent bridge. Its workers removed a concrete overhang from the wall last year, but an internal investigation concluded that project didn’t contribute to the collapse. Instead, PennDOT officials said the 107-year-old wall was never designed or reinforced to act as a retaining wall.

Twelve feet of backfill was added behind the wall in the 1990s to construct a parking lot to serve McFarland apartment residents.

The engineer hired by McFarland, however, said the work to remove the overhang could have contributed to the instability of the wall.

“We believe that this might have affected the structural dynamics of the retaining wall and potentially could be part of the reason of the collapse,” Ensor wrote.

City officials in late June condemned the building and its owners appealed, further stalling action on the case. The owners are fighting the city on two fronts: in Dauphin County Housing Court where city officials cited them for failing to act and in front of the city’s codes appeals board, where the condemnation case will be heard Oct. 20.

Meanwhile, as the cases are dragged out, and as a car still sits on Henry’s roof, he is suffering, he said.

Henry has lost $200,000 in revenue, in addition to the obvious damage to his building. Now, he will suffer untold financial losses from shutting his doors and possibly losing employees who will find jobs elsewhere.

“I may have to start all over,” Henry said. “If this doesn’t get fixed immediately, I may have to close for good. The consequences could be irreversible.”

Henry said he has already exhausted his efforts with city officials. Now Henry is trying to get Gov. Tom Wolf’s attention to force action in the case before additional collapses can endanger the public or force business to close for good.

Engineering report: Howard Tire and Auto by PennLive on Scribd

Engineering report: McFarland Apartments by PennLive on Scribd

McF photo A

Photo Report: McFarland Apartments, Camera A by PennLive on Scribd

Photo Report: McFarland Apartments, Camera B by PennLive on Scribd

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