Planet Earth Begins Eating Bankrupt City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Is Harrisburg hell on earth?


While former "mayor for life" Stephen R. Reed was busy driving the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania into bankruptcy so he could pay for the truly essential items of running a municipal government— such as a Seventh Cavalry telescope, a Vampire Kit, and Virgil Earp's watch and badge—he apparently forgot about replacing the city's deteriorating nineteenth-century gas and water pipes.

Now those old leaky pipes are causing the streets to collapse, and Harrisburg can't borrow the money to make the necessary repairs.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

A sinkhole, measuring about 50 feet long and eight feet deep, had swallowed [Harrisburg-resident] Ms. [Sherri] Lewis's street, damaging water and gas pipes and forcing more than a dozen residents to evacuate one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. "I thought the world was ending," says Ms. Lewis, 42 years old.

Harrisburg officials have identified at least 40 other sinkholes around the 50,000-person city. The combination of particularly sandy soil and leaky pipes under Harrisburg's streets make it susceptible to sinkholes, city officials say. But Harrisburg has a bigger problem: The Pennsylvania capital can't afford to replace many of the aging pipes, some of which date back to the 19th century.

Harrisburg is in default on its debt and has been effectively shut out of the municipal-debt market, which cities and states use to finance everything from building schools to paving roads.

Last year, I took a look at Harrisburg's woes for Reason TV: