Cherry Township Residents Ponder Peculiar Storm Damage
Gordon and Joanne Durland, who own a quaint farm on Hunsinger Road in Cherry Township, Sullivan County, were not surprised to learn that nearby Dushore experienced flash-flooding on April 26 when the Little Loyalsock Creek roared out of its banks and inundated about two-dozen homes and businesses in the downtown area. The Durlands’ property and that of Bill Hunsinger supply the headwaters for the Little Loyalsock and now bear the consequences of both torrential rains and what they see as man-made folly.
Across from the Durlands and next door to Hunsinger on Hunsinger Road, which crosses a plateau from which one can see for miles, is the Chesapeake Energy Yengo 2H gas well pad. When it was completed last year, Hunsinger Road was reconstructed at Chesapeake’s expense. Not only was the new roadbed several feet higher than the previous road, which made it difficult for residents to get in and out of their driveways, the Durlands maintain that the slope of the road, referred to by PennDOT officials as “super-elevation,” was poorly engineered. Since then, several heavy rain events have dislodged the large stones dumped alongside the road as a buffer, clogged a drainpipe up the road from the Durlands and the home of Bill Hunsinger, and caused several diversions in the streams that carry runoff from the plateau into the Little Loyalsock Creek.
“We were having some erosion with the creek moving over towards the road, but it has never been like this,” said Hunsinger’s sister, Lillian Yengo, who has the dubious distinction of having the well named after her since Chesapeake already has a “Hunsinger” well at another location. “We have never had the water come down and wash so many stones into the yard. I had just raked them all out a couple of weeks ago,” she continued. “There’s so much around the milk house now; I don’t know what we’re going to do with it all.”
“I just spent two weeks hauling buckets of rocks and gravel back to the driveway after the last two messes, but this is too much for me,” Joanne said in reference to separate storm events over the past few weeks. Gordon and their son were at work when the heavy rains hit at about 9:30 p.m. It didn’t take Joanne long to realize that she was going to experience another bout of flooding. When it appeared obvious that the water was headed straight for her house, she called the Dushore Volunteer Fire Department and began moving large logs to the front porch just to break the flow of roiling slurry of mud and stones that was surging toward her.
“We had never flooded before,” Joanne asserted, noting that the previous road was never in great condition, but it was always passable. A drainpipe that used to run under the road above the farm always steered water from the gully on the opposite side of the road to an upper pond on the other side of the barn from her house. As if the water, which seeped into the house and filled the basement on April 26, was not enough to deal with, the rolling stones and a wall of tires constructed by the Durlands to stave erosion, washed across the property, surrounded outbuildings and the house and eventually poured into the Durlands’ lower pond. The welcome mat from the front porch came to rest upright among the debris that landed near the pond, now a brown pool of muddy water that has lost its charm.
“The state put the stones in the ditches, and the rain just keeps washing everything out,” related Hunsinger, who contends that the bulk of the stone in his yard and on both sides of his barn, which is of a smaller caliper than that on the Durland farm, came directly from the well pad. He blames his washed out driveway on PennDOT, whom he said replaced a 30-inch pipe that used to run under the road between his house and the Durlands with a much smaller pipe that has proven inadequate to handle heavy rains. The road was also widened by two feet when it was rebuilt, Hunsinger noted, which made the diversion ditch that runs alongside it narrower on his side of the road.
As the April 26 storm grew more intense, Joanne realized that water was rising quickly in her beagle pens, especially one inhabited by Pal, who climbed atop his house to escape the stone-laden slurry. When Joanne made her first attempt to rescue him, she found that numerous large stones were lodged against the gate. “I finally got him out and had to pick up and carry him because the water was so deep,” Joanne recalled. “And lightning was crashing all around me.” Though hardy, Joanne is a slight woman. The adrenaline rush that accompanied her fear likely led to her being able to accomplish as much on her own as she did before the fire department arrived to pump her basement and after the firefighters had to leave to address flooding issues in Dushore.
“They are the only ones who have ever done anything for us,” Joanne said of fire company personnel, expressing gratitude in particular to firefighters Roger Hope, Brock Boyer, and Joe Stabryla for their assistance.
Hope, who was interviewed a few days later, explained that the first priority he could see when he arrived at the Durlands ahead of the fire truck was to divert what he remembers as a “mini river” away from the house, which he was able to get started on with heavy equipment that belonged to the Durlands. It was dark, the rain was relentless, and Hope admits that it was difficult to comprehend everything that was happening at once. Once the firefighters arrived and began pumping out the basement, they started receiving calls about the situation in town. By then Joanne’s son had come home and continued moving stone to reroute the wayward stream, so they pulled out and moved on.
Now the Durlands and Hunsingers are looking for answers. Both have properties literally awash with stones—more than can be raked to the side this time. The property owners have placed numerous calls to both PennDOT and Chesapeake Energy, hoping that the two entities may share in the responsibility of the cleanup, but they have had no response.
“They have to be responsible for some of it because they built the road,” Yengo said of Chesapeake Energy.
“I’m just afraid that they are going to tell us it was ‘an act of God,’” Gordon lamented. Heavy rains and erosion, the affected parties agree, are acts of God. “But it was men who put all those rocks up there,” Gordon remarked.
Joanne noted that a grader was brought in during the night to plow the stones off the road to make it passable again. “It was so bad, the fire trucks could hardly get here,” she related, expressing frustration at the seemingly futile repairs by PennDOT over the past two months.
“They just set (the stones) there. They don’t even pack them in,” she said.
“The material they are using doesn’t lock in,” Gordon agreed.
“The ditch is empty now,” Yengo added as she looked up the road from the front of the house in which she was born. “I’ve lived half of my life here, and this is a mess.”
Hunsinger discovered that his basement had flooded for the first time ever, leaving a half inch of silt and water on the linoleum floor and ruing vegetables stored there. He was unable to sell hay stored in one of his sheds to a potential buyer when they opened the door and found the floor still covered with water.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Hunsinger lamented.
The isolation of the Durland farm and Hunsinger’s house is enviable. When the Durlands sold off their dairy cattle a few years ago, they settled into a semi-retirement mode and began to sell hay and vegetables. Several customers braved the deeply rutted driveway to do business with the Durlands during the course of the interview. Meanwhile, workers from an unknown company worked feverishly nearby, repairing the washed-out entryway to the Chesapeake gas pad.
Joanne had just put in strawberry and rhubarb sets the day before the storm. No trace of them exists. She started keeping chicks and ducks in a new hen house, which was pushed several feet by the water, as was a pickup truck in front of the house. One of her ducks died.
“Who’s going to pay for all of this?!” Joanne exclaimed several times. “When we tell people from the city where we live, they say, ‘You must be getting rich up there with all of the well-drilling,’ but we’ve put a lot more money into protecting what we own than we’re getting from the gas company.”
Cherry Township supervisor Diane Fitzgerald considers the rain events as of late to be unprecedented. Hunsinger Road is a state road and therefore not under the township’s jurisdiction, she explained, but her heart goes out to all of the residents of Cherry Township who were affected by the flooding.
“I feel so sorry for so many people who had problems,” Fitzgerald stated. “We really weren’t prepared for anything like that. It really hurt our roads, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. We had finally completed a lot of repairs from flooding in January 2010, and that got all undone.” As of April 28, she noted, the township’s emergency coordinators were busy assessing damage reports in the area.
PennDOT officials and Chesapeake Energy were apprised of the situation by the Rocket-Courier on April 28 and have met with the Durlands and Hunsinger separately to look into the matter.
“We are looking into a possible course of action/remedies to deal with the situation at their location,” PennDOT community relations coordinator Rick Mason related via email. “We anticipate having more information to share within a week or so.”
Hunsinger noted on May 3 that he had spoken with both Rory Sweeney and Bradley Harkness of Chesapeake Energy and was offered some assistance with the cleanup but no clear timeline. Sweeney maintains that PennDOT bears some of the responsibility at the Hunsinger residence and intended to work with the agency to address the situation.