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Akron residents believe construction from major sewer project is damaging homes

Posted at 6:21 PM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-23 20:49:57-04

In the last two years, sizable cracks have formed on the ceiling and walls inside the sunroom of Daika Moegerle's Akron home on Mustill Street. Gaps have also popped up on a baseboard, along her hardwood floors and on some of the interior steps.

"It kind of feels like my sunroom is pulling away from my house," she said.

Next door, Moegerle's mother, Cynthia Bell, noticed bricks appeared to be separating from a chimney and part of a ceiling is crumbling into the attic of her home.

Around the corner on Cuyahoga Street, living conditions are more extreme for Jeremiah Caldwell. In January, a foundation wall collapsed, spilling mounds of dirt into his basement.

All of the residents live in the shadow of the city's $184 million Interceptor Tunnel Project and they're convinced vibrations from digging, dumping and heavy construction trucks are damaging homes.

"It's not coincidental that we're all having some kind of damage at the same time. It's not coincidental," Bell said.

The project, part of a federal mandate to improve Akron's sewer system, is using a huge tunnel boring machine to dig under the city.

"It's gonna go one mile south under the city of Akron to create a 26-foot diameter tunnel that will hold 25 million gallons of combination sanitary sewer overflow," said Chris Ludle, the deputy service director.

The machine, nicknamed Rosie, spits out rock and debris which is then loaded onto a conveyor belt and carried away by trucks.

After construction began in 2016, Moegerle and Caldwell noted several times when their houses vibrated.

"All you have to do is live here. Stay here a week. Stay up and down in one of these houses for a week. You'll know it's the construction," Caldwell said.

"The trembling, the rattling that's been happening to our homes, it has just been constant over the past couple of years," Moegerle added.

The residents acknowledged their homes are about 100 years old and that wear and tear should be expected, but they said the cracks in ceilings, walls and foundations didn't happen until after construction started.

Ludle doesn't think the project is to blame for the damage reported by residents.

He said a dozen seismic readers have been monitoring the area and engineers found vibrations have not exceeded limits that would cause that type of damage.

"We haven't found anything unusual through the whole operation," he said.

But Caldwell isn't buying it. He has complained to city council twice about what happened to his foundation, but no one from the city has come to examine the crummy conditions of his basement yet.

However, city officials said they tried to go into Caldwell's house after his most recent visit to council, but they haven't been able to gain access.

"Without having a structural engineer look at the property, we can't speak to what caused the collapse. However, we have no information that would indicate this sort of issue could be caused by the project. We also have no information about how long the damage has been there," said Ellen Lander Nischt, spokesperson for Mayor Dan Horrigan.

Ludle said mining should be done by Labor Day and the project completed in roughly one year.

Moegerle and her mother both said they don't want to move, but feel the city should pay to repair the damage to their homes.

"We're not rattling our own homes for any reason. We have no reason to do that," Moegerle said.

Akron officials are not saying if the city would be willing to foot any of the bills, but Ludle stressed his department will continue to work with concerned residents and evaluate their homes.

For example, Ludle said a structural engineer met with Moegerle and recommended she make changes to her own drainage system.

But Moegerle insists the construction, rather than her downspouts, is to blame for the structural damage to her home and believes city leaders would agree if they lived in her neighborhood.

"When your kids wake up in the middle of the night and ask you whether or not you felt that rattle and you say, 'Oh, it's just the construction.' That's the normal conversation we have now."