For at least four months, the sidewalk in front of 4805 Greene St. in Germantown had been impassable.
This was because of a hole which, surrounded by mounds of dirt and rocks, drew comparisons to a mine shaft, trench and “Hellmouth.”
Emaleigh Doley, block captain of nearby West Rockland Street, recounted seeing women pushing strollers in the middle of the street after sunset as a result.
It was a sore spot for the community as both a safety concern and an emblem of the confusion that accompanies efforts to figure out who is responsible to fix property used by the public.
Last weekend, however, the hole was filled in with what appeared to be the dirt-and-rock mounds.
While it hadn’t been leveled by Wednesday afternoon, a board that once sat inside it doubled as a pedestrian plank, or bridge, across it.
“My first question when I saw it was whether or not they were done,” Doley said Wednesday afternoon. “It didn’t seem like it was that hard to do.”
A long time coming
It was a hard thing to do, as it turns out.
The Doley sisters, who serve as West Rockland’s do-it-yourself civic-reclamation motivators, offer an extensive chronology of what happened in the weeks since NewsWorks tweeted a picture of the Germantown “Hellmouth.”
The first they can remember bringing it to the city’s attention was back in March or April, when they alerted Philly 311 about an “exposed opening of about 6ft by 8ft that drops down to a hole at least 10ft deep” less than a block from a day-care center.
Since it resulted from an unfinished sewage-related project, the property owners — U.S. National Bank Association of Riviera Beach, Fla. — were responsible. With the property vacant, there was no pressing need to address it, though.
What came next was a parade of represententatives from the city’s Streets, Water and Licenses & Inspection departments who couldn’t decide who should take the lead.
Over at City Hall, a spokesman for Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass said that the office had contacted both L&I and the Water Department, but each claimed the other was responsible.
Media coverage ensued
Emaleigh Doley said that, on July 10, a pair of Water Department representatives knocked on her door and asked to be shown the problem area. They had been sent by the Water Commissioner after the story finally hit the Daily News.
That same day, an L&I spokeswoman exchanged information with the Doleys on the phone and over Twitter.
The Doleys did not see the crew who came to fill it in, but noticed it had been filled by Saturday.
“Everybody kind of messed up a little bit,” she said. “There was a lot of miscommunication.”
Debra McCarty, deputy commissioner of the Water Department, said press attention spurred a Managing Director’s office representative to contact her. Customer-service, and then maintenance, representatives were then sent out to the site.
She surmised that someone was trying to do “illegal repairs” to the sewer lines and then backed away when they ran into electrical wires.
Filling the hole, which the water department did, “was the right thing to do,” McCarty said, noting that repairing the sidewalk itself will fall to L&I and the owners.
Emaleigh Doley rued the fact that there is “not enough public awareness about how 311 functions,” which could have contributed to the delay. Meanwhile, her sister Aine displayed the tomato plants which were growing in the community garden less than a month after being plucked from the hole.
When fully grown, according to the Doleys, the produce will be called “Hellmouth Tomatoes,” to acknowledge their original roots.