“It was lucky that we were away,” said April Bollwage-Cloer.
She, her husband, and their son were not home on July 15 when stormwater flooded the lower floor of their two-floor house on Maplevale Drive in Lower Makefield. Their property abuts the Delaware Canal, which runs from Bristol to Easton along the Delaware River.
She said a huge sinkhole swallowed her backyard and her neighbor’s, too.
Rushing flood water from that same storm claimed seven lives in Upper Makefield, including a two-year-old girl and her 9-month-old baby brother.
“We’ve been flooded before,” said Bollwage-Cloer. The last time was just two years ago. “I’m still paying off stuff from the last time.”
The house belonged to her grandmother, she said. When people ask her why they stay, she says, “Who would buy our house now, that’s flooded three times in 12 years?”
And their insurance company does not cover flood damage, she added.
“The insurance won’t cover anything,” she said.
She said they could see the land was eroding around a drainage pipe the township ran between her lot and her neighbor’s. They had complained to the township, she said.
“It wasn’t maintained,” she said.
“I worried about allowing my child out there,” she said. During the storm, “the pipe collapsed and broke open.”
As it was, her son’s playhouse and outdoor toys washed down the canal, along with their patio furniture and the neighbor’s shed. Somehow a Harley-Davidson that neighbor was restoring remained; a firefighter pulled it from the muck, she said.
The next day people came, scavengers walking around barriers the police had put up, and stole toys floating in the water.
“People were down there with nets, fishing toys out,” said Bollwage-Cloer. “I told them to put my son’s toys back.” Some did. Others kept them. “We still don’t know where his playhouse is.”
Some voyeurs came and climbed down the newly-carved ravine and took selfies, she said. But other “wonderful” people and churches reached out to help the family. Officials from the township, the county, their state representative, and senator all came by.
“Finally, people are listening.”
The township sent equipment to fill in the giant sinkhole in her backyard. People from the county said they had no idea there was a flooding problem.
“My grandfather’s (burial) flag fell in the mud, and a woman from the county took it to Veteran’s Affairs to get it cleaned,” she said.
Many homes in the Maplevale neighborhood, including those that had never flooded, were damaged this time—at least 30. Residents are banding together to press the township for action. Neighbors plan to attend the supervisors’ meeting Wednesday evening at 7:30.
“They’re going to see me every two weeks,” said Bollwage-Cloer. “Who is going to make sure this isn’t going to happen again?”
Township Manager David Katzer said the township was aware of erosion in the Maplevale neighborhood.
“We’re out doing repairs as we speak,” Katzer said. “We’re actively remedying the issue.” He attributed the damage to “the volume of rain that fell in a short period. There was a tremendous amount of overland flow. It was an unfortunate circumstance.”
For the longer term, he said the township is working with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (which owns the canal) to remedy the situation.
“The repair work is underway,” said Katzer. “Obviously, we feel for the folks, what they’ve experienced. We’re working as hard as possible to address those issues and doing everything in our power to expedite it.”