Council calls emergency meeting to discuss sinkhole

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Blytheville City Council, called in special session by Blytheville Mayor James W. Sanders Wednesday, voted 4-0 to pass an ordinance waiving the competitive bid process and authoring the payment for repair of the Wastewater Department's 21st Street force main. Those councilmen present for the meeting were Councilman R. L. Jones, Councilman Kevin Snow, Councilman John Musgraves and Councilman Tommy Abbott.

"[Once I knew] it's going to be over the $20,000 threshold, I called the council in so that we can start getting the materials here and get this thing fixed as soon as we possibly can," Sanders explained.

A large 10-foot wide and 10-foot deep sinkhole was found Sunday morning on 21st Street at Henley Street near the old Rice Stixx building. The soil that previously filled that hole has washed away through the city's sewer system, leaving a portion of the street and a 12-inch water main unsupported as well as exposing a highly degraded 30-inch sewer main. The city has since closed that portion of 21st Street and urges residents to stay away.

The repair is needed immediately and therefore the City Council declared that "an emergency exists" in order to expedite the delivery of necessary supplies and equipment, as well as payment authorization in the amount of $47,640 to Jower's General Contracting for the installation of a temporary sewer bypass system, repairs to the 21st Street force main and repairs to the street as soon as possible.

Two bids were submitted to the city for the work (Jower's General Contractors and Dennis Allen Construction), but only the Jower's bid was deemed a "complete bid." Therefore, the council voted to award the work to Jower's. The bid included $2,340 for "mobilization, barricades, and control," $4,680 for the sewer bypass system, $24,310 for force main repair (including 56 linear feet of 30" SDR-26 heavy wall sewer pipe, rental of large diameter pipe plugs, concrete to reconnect the manhole, pipe, bedding material, gravel and labor) and $16,310 for concrete road repair (backfill material and compaction, gravel base material, ready mix concrete, labor to set up and pour the concrete and final cleanup). The bid does not include "ground de-watering" or new manholes. DePriest said that there will be no need for new manholes because they city already has some and that he did not anticipate any need for de-watering. The bid estimated the cost for de-watering, if needed, to be $6,000.

The view under the street, looking eastward, includes the large hole, numerous boards and timbers (similar to in an old mine), the 2-inch water main and a 30-inch sewer main. Currently, due to the washout, the water main is suspended and unsupported. Additionally, the sewer main is degraded heavily. Fortunately, the sewage is currently still making its way to the sewage pond, but would present a "bad problem" if a blockage occurred.

Additionally, city officials say that if something was to happen to the unsupported water main before repairs could be made, it has the potential to affect most of the west side of the city (approximately 3,000 Blytheville residents) and the hospital.

Because of the potential problems, the Mayor and the Blytheville City Council voted 4-0 to declare that an emergency existed in an effort to repair the more than 70-year old pipes. Wastewater Director Richard DePriest said that Gary Carr, who has worked for the department for over 30 years, estimates that the pipes were installed approximately 70 years ago, but DePriest said he wouldn't be a bit surprised if they are even older than that.

"Jower's has experience on this kind of thing. A couple of years ago, the same thing happened on Air Base Highway. They did a good job on that," DePriest said.

"Also, right now we're working with ADEQ and this right here will even affect our INI. And we don't know what the weather is going to do. Concrete is still in that hole and we need to get things done," Sanders said, "I was also told that in the milestone, we did a camera and what was told to us was that those old pipes, the sewer gases have pretty much eaten away the tops of those, so it's all old."

"The exposed water line and sewer line is the problem. According to the water people, if that water line was to open up, they're not really sure how they could turn it off...and this area covers about 3,000 people in that area and the hospital. So there is some urgency to this. We need to get this done. 30-inch lines are going to have to be brought in to replace the ones that are there...and this isn't going to be the last time this comes up. A few years ago there was a sinkhole on Air Base Highway and a truck went to the bottom of it...so what we've got is some infrastructure that has been in place for a long, long time and for a lack of a better term, we just don't have the money to go in there and replace it all...also, you just don't know where the next problem is going to be," DePriest

Councilman Tommy Abbott asked what caused the problem.

"Actually there is a wastewater line that is busted, but underneath that hole it is making its way back to the existing pipe and takes it to our treatment facility. We're lucky about that. It's not coming out of the hole. If that part of the pipe had collapsed, we'd have a big problem. It would be coming up into the road...and that is one reason why we want to get this thing done quickly," DePriest said.

Mayor Sanders said that there are no boil orders at this time and that there has been no contamination of the city's water.

Great River Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Ralph Beatty said that the hospital does have a contingency plan, in the event that it lost its water supply.

"Our contingency plan is that we would bring in a tanker, designed specifically for transporting water only, in the event that we lost our water supply. I have done that in the past at hospitals that lost their water due to things like hurricanes...it would make things more difficult, but we'd be able to continue our services," Beatty said.

thenry@blythevillecourier.com