Gouging a hole in South Philadelphia the other day, a construction crew came to a fast stop after getting some bad news: It was digging in the wrong spot.
As if that wasn't enough, the site it was excavating was contaminated with a nasty brew of chemicals best left unmolested.
This requires some explanation.
In Bella Vista on Monday and Tuesday, a crew from Real Construction Co. was using a backhoe to dig a foundation for housing. The site was a vacant three-sided property at Passyunk Avenue and Christian and Sixth Streets that hosted various gas stations between the 1950s and 1998.
"Wait!" yelled Joel Palmer, founder of Friends of Triangle Park. The park once stood where the guys were digging, but no longer exists, though its friends still do. "Why are you digging?"
The backhoe operator waved his permit. Only thing was, it was a permit to dig across the street, on a different lot.
"Stop digging immediately!" Palmer exclaimed, devoid of authority but emboldened by fear and anger.
The operator obliged, but by then six truckloads of dirt potentially contaminated with carcinogenic benzene from the gas stations had been hauled away.
A whole lot of phone calls then were made to police, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and, of course, the owner of Condom Kingdom, Stuart Schlaffman, who also happens to own Triangle Park.
Only don't call it that.
"I don't want to have anything to do with that name," he said Thursday. "It's not a park. I allowed them to use it as one, but they took liberties and assumed too much."
The friends had fashioned the spot into a green oasis.
The now un-parklike parcel is for sale for $495,000, Schlaffman said.
"It's so scary," he added, referring to the mistaken dig. "Thank God there were no electrical lines under there."
As for the benzene, good news, according to David Brown, DEP geologist, who raced to the scene.
While a plume of groundwater and benzene continually sloshes below the surface at the site, it sits eight to 10 feet deep. Thanks to Palmer's noisy intercession (a Friend indeed), the backhoe had dug only seven feet down, Brown said.
And, he said, the digging was done where contamination was minimal.
"We don't have any reason for people in the area to be worried," he said.
As for all that relocated dirt, the contractor felt bad and made amends.
Vinny Silva, owner of Real, dumped the 100-ton load onto his Frankford property, where it will be tested.
Meantime, he purchased clean dirt and had his guys refill the hole.
It was "bad luck" that caused the whole kerfuffle, he said.
"Just an honest mistake," a forgiving Palmer said.
Still, being a Philadelphian, he couldn't help adding: "The new dirt they filled the hole with is not very good-looking, though."