EBENSBURG - Improvements to an underground storm water system swamped with problems could begin by the end of the month.
The intersection of South Center Street and Lakeview Road, just off Route 22 in Cambria Township, routinely floods during heavy rainfall, residents said.
During heavy storms, the intersection - including access to county-owned facilities on Candlelight Drive, can become inaccessible to motorists.
"It's flooded for many, many years," said Linda Illig, a lifelong resident of Cambria County.
Officials from Ebensburg Borough, Cambria Township and the Cambria County Conservation District have identified the problem: a partially-collapsed drainage pipe under the Uni-Mart parking lot, 542. S. Center St., which cannot handle excess drainage water during storms.
Determining who is responsible for remedying the flooding problem has left neighbors washed out, residents said.
"I just get the run-around" when asking officials to fix the problem, Linda Illig's sister-in-law, Carleen Illig, said.
Linda Illig's home and the Uni-Mart store are situated on opposite corners of the intersection, both within the boundaries of Cambria Township.
Water flows downhill from the borough and passes under South Center Street, a state-owned road, before emptying onto township property under the Uni-Mart.
When the convenience store was first constructed, the previous owners tapped into PennDOT's drainage system. The result is a series of pipes unable to handle the volume of water flowing out to the opposite side of Route 22, borough and township officials said.
"The District Maintenance Unit has been coordinating between Cambria Township, Ebensburg Borough, the property owner and the lessee of the property concerning the drainage issues at this location," Rodney Beiter, PennDOT District 9 assistant manager, said. "Collectively, we are trying to resolve the issues."
The pipe connecting Uni-Mart to the PennDOT system is not a permitted connection, said Rob W. Piper Jr., Cambria County Conservation District manager.
The pipe under the store's parking lot is smaller in diameter than the PennDOT pipe, and has since collapsed and flooded with debris, Piper said.
In a letter to Ebensburg Borough Council dated July 2003, conservation district officials highlighted Illig's attempts at stopping the flooding on her property. In the letter, officials estimated about 200 acres off runoff enters a natural stream before reaching the intersection.
"Several storm inlets are also present in the immediate area," officials wrote in the letter, noting that some portions of the system "may be inadequate."
Most recently, PennDOT sent a letter to the Uni-Mart property owners addressing the drainage problems.
In it, District 9 Executive Thomas A. Prestash wrote that PennDOT has determined that non-permitted work on the property altered the performance of PennDOT's cross-pipe, resulting in safety concerns for motorists in the area.
"This illegal connection has allowed storm water to block drainage and cause flash flooding in this area and has created a sinkhole which may impact SR 2013 (South Center Street) if not corrected," the letter stated.
Representatives from Uni-Mart and Lehigh Gas Corp., the gas provider for Uni-Mart, did not return repeated calls for comment.
The borough has no facilities along the roadway, Borough Manager Dan Penatzer said.
"We're not directly involved in it," he said.
At their Sept. 10 meeting, Cambria Township officials read the letter from PennDOT addressed to the Uni-Mart property owner.
PennDOT cited the violation and gave the Uni-Mart owners until Aug. 17 to obtain a highway occupancy permit to complete remediation work on the pipe. The letter gave them until this coming Friday to complete the work, or PennDOT may step in to fix it.
"Moreover, on or after September 28, 2012, if you have not obtained or started a HOP to remedy this situation, the Department may elect to perform the minimum essential work in the State highway and on your property to abate and remedy the situation at your sole cost and expense. You will be invoiced for all the Department's costs, expenses and overhead," Prestash wrote in the letter.
Officials and residents remain hopeful the problem will be fixed before the next big rainstorm.
But after a series of storms in July left Linda Illig's basement garage flooded and damaged a sump pump, the family was forced to take drastic action, she said.
Carleen Illig's husband, Gary, along with other family members, removed the garage doors from Linda Illig's home. In their place the family constructed a cinder block wall, reinforced with tons of dirt to keep the water out.
"There's no other recourse," Linda Illig said, surveying her property.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.