Sinkhole repairs to take longer Divers discover extensive damage to sewer pipe

Emergency may be called

Costs already are more than $460,000 and still rising

November 14, 1997|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Damage at a downtown sinkhole is so extensive that city officials are seeking to declare an emergency and believe that repairs will take longer and be more expensive than they had originally thought.

Scuba divers have discovered that a large section of sewer pipe is missing at the site, which was the scene of a gas explosion and fire on Saturday several hours after the street collapsed. Attempts to fix the street have cost more than $460,000 and are mounting by the hour, officials said yesterday.

"We've got complications," city public works director George G. Balog said last night from his mobile trailer at Park Avenue and Franklin street facing the damaged intersection.

He said the repairs will take three weeks instead of two and added, "I hope that's not too optimistic."

"This isn't a hole in the sewer wall. The damage is more extensive than we originally thought," Balog said.

Early yesterday, Fire Department scuba divers went into the crater and its broken sewer shaft to examine the damage. They found that a section of the six-foot-high concrete pipe is missing and that clay and soil from underneath the street had been propelled both up and downstream, an indication, Balog said, of the force of the explosion.

"A large section of pipe just doesn't deteriorate over time. You would have to have a major force to push the soil both ways up the pipe," Balog said based upon what the scuba divers told him.

Balog said that as much as a 15-foot section of pipe may have been destroyed Saturday morning when the street caved in. As the street fell, it took conduits and manholes with it, setting off a five-hour gas explosion and fire that forced the evacuation of nearby residences, including the Metropolitan YWCA, a building that remains closed.

Balog said he believes that the "tremendous force" of the explosion propelled the clay and sand under the street into the sewer pipe.

"It is possible there was a smaller hole in the sewer before the explosion, but I don't think it remained small after the explosion. I could give you five or ten things that could have gone wrong, but there is one fact I do know. There is dirt in the pipe in both directions, not just downstream," Balog said.

The sewer, which is 33 feet below Park Avenue, was constructed in 1911 and is linked to thousands of homes and institutions throughout West and Northwest Baltimore. It also extends into Baltimore County and serves Reisterstown.

Officials said there is no public health danger -- alternate sewer lines and routes have been opened.

Balog added that a vacant structure at the Northwest corner of Park Avenue and Saratoga Street, which formerly housed the Cove Restaurant, will be demolished.

Construction crews are working on a 24-hour basis. Balog said he hopes to have a temporary, tent-like structure constructed around the pit to protect those laboring in the crater.

Balog said the city had spent $463,000 by 1 p.m. yesterday and the figure was climbing each hour the work continued.

Of that amount, he said $254,000 went to city workers and materials and $209,000 went to outside contractors.

Balog said he met with the city director of finance yesterday to declare the site an emergency, which would suspend the city's normal rules of competitive bidding. "This will allow us to obtain the services of specialists to solve the problem," Balog said.

Before the street's cave-in, Park Avenue carried a number of underground public utilities. Electrical conduits and fiber-optic cables ran under the west side of the street, while the east side held a fresh-water line, steam line and gas line as well as a smaller electrical conduit.

The sanitary sewer runs in the middle of the street, but at 33 feet down, is the deepest of the utilities.

Rush-hour traffic remained backed up by the street closure in the middle section of downtown Baltimore. As traffic avoided Franklin Street, it backed up on southbound St. Paul and Cathedral streets and blocked the cross-street intersections along the way.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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