Montco storm drain in need of repairs puts businesses at risk

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Action News investigates a sinking business in Norristown. Chad Pradelli reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on July 13, 2017. (WPVI)

It is a huge storm drain in desperate need of repair. Lives and properties are at risk, but who's going to pay for it?

Steel beams are corroded, wood is rotted, and the concrete above is sagging.

This is a storm drain running under Vico Cognata's Norristown Auto Body Shop.

"I just hope and pray to God and I don't mean to repeat myself, that no one dies or gets seriously hurt," Attorney Charles Mandracchia said.

The 67-year-old says his shop is collapsing.

"It's cracking all the way down," Cognata said.

"Norristown has completely turned its back on this issue," Mandracchia added.

"I was ready to retire before this problem. I had a buyer," Cognata said.

The culvert underneath the Cognata's property is part of the Saw Mill Run Watershed, a roughly 4 square mile flood control program through the heart of downtown Norristown that dumps into the Schuylkill River.

Vico Cognata says he went to the Borough in 2015.

Borough Officials wrote this letter stating:

"Each private property owner is responsible for the portion of the channel that runs below their private property."

It came after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection told the Borough the culvert was a "major safety hazard and should be addressed by the Borough immediately."

"I don't know how it can be a property owner's responsibility since it doesn't necessarily service the property owner. It services the Borough of Norristown," Mandracchia said.

And the Cognatas are not alone.
Up Arch Street, Michael Hoffman's parking lot has growing holes.

"One that we hope doesn't swallow a car," Hoffman said.

Norristown officials declined our repeated requests for an on camera interview, but released a statement, again emphasizing private property owners are responsible for repairs under their property.

But Mandracchia says Norristown passed this resolution in 1964, agreeing it was responsible for maintenance of the flood control project.

And just last month, the DEP told Action News, "It is DEP's position that the Borough of Norristown is responsible for the storm drain in question."

Mandracchia is trying to get the Borough to pay for the repairs to the culvert and Cognata's auto shop.

As the case slowly plays out in Federal court, these business owners can only watch their properties with a wary eye.

"I'd like the borough to step up to the plate, that's their responsibility. Take care of it, Cognata said.

No one can tell me the cost to repair the culvert, but its money the business owners don't have.

The attorney says Norristown could apply for state and federal grants to repair the culvert, but have refused to do so.
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