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The repair of a 200-foot stretch of Tonawanda Creek Road in Clarence is at the mercy of the rains that have barely subsided since the road began to collapse several weeks ago.

"Quite frankly, until it stops raining, we're not going to put any heavy equipment out there," Maria C. Lehman, Erie County public works commissioner, said Wednesday.

A preliminary damage estimate points to a $7.3 million project, including $2 million to build a metal pile wall, $2.6 million for fill, $330,000 to excavate the creek, $575,000 to rebuild the road and $800,000 to purchase four homes. In addition, engineering design is expected to cost $1 million.

"Congressmen (Jack) Quinn and (Thomas) Reynolds have written letters to the president and to FEMA asking for help," Lehman said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will fund the project only if a federal disaster declaration is issued by the White House.

Gov. George E. Pataki has already declared a state emergency for 17 counties in the wake of extreme rainfall in May and the subsequent damages estimated at $20 million.

The road at the northwest corner of Clarence began collapsing June 25, forcing two families to evacuate their homes. The road embankment had moved laterally about 30 feet toward Tonawanda Creek. Engineers blamed it on heavy moisture from groundwater pushing out clay soil underneath.

"The soil isn't holding down to the foundation," Lehman said. "(There are) balls of clay within a sandy loam. We've coined it 'Clamherst,' for the Clarence and Amherst soil problems." Soil erosion occurs every spring, but rarely in the summer, according to Lehman, "but this is not erosion. It happens to be next to Tonawanda Creek, but it's a couple hundred feet away."

Lehman said that a tree with a 6-foot diameter has migrated 60 feet away from the road and 20 feet down the hill and that it's still standing upright.

"If the rain stops and the weather is dry for a couple of weeks, then we can go in there," she said.

"The only way you can repair that is to move it over, put sheet piling down to the rock -- which is about 40 to 50 feet from there -- and then rock-anchor the sheet pilings to the rock. You basically put a wall in and anchor it into the rock. And it's not cheap. It's not a quick fix."


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