Local News

Sunday, Feb 16 2014 05:00 PM

Sinkhole fixed, neighborhood gets back to normal

  1. 1 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Sheila Spencer was walking to the auto mechanics nearby to pick up her repaired car that she says was damaged by the bumps on the road in front of her house where the sinkhole was in December. The city has fixed the problem and is continuing road work around 1st and L streets.

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  2. 2 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Drew Johnson lives in the area where a large sinkhole opened the street in December.

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  3. 3 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Since the sinkhole in December the road has been repaired and paved near 1st and L streets.

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  4. 4 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Residents in the area of 1st and L streets are still dealing with the aftermath of the large sinkhole in their neighborhood that swallowed a Cadillac.

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  5. 5 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Maria Owens and Deron Johnson live near the area that was affected by a sinkhole in December near Chester Avenue and Brundage Lane.

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  6. 6 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Deron Johnson and Maria Owens live in the area of Chester Avenue and Brundage Lane where a sinkhole swallowed a car in December.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Dark new temporary asphalt covers the south side of 1st Street outside where Drew Johnson and her husband live -- but she still remembers how shaken they were when a sinkhole swallowed son David Williams' Cadillac parked outside.

"When it happened, it felt like an earthquake. My husband told me the car was in the hole and we really didn't believe him until we saw it," Johnson said of her son's silver sedan, which had to be hauled out by crane then towed away.

They and their neighbors continued shaking their heads over how disruptive the sewer line break at 1st and L streets early Dec. 6 turned out to be to their east Bakersfield neighborhood.

They say trips to the Albertsons or the Walgreens -- both about a block away -- have meant extensive detours, and the rough road has made mischief with their cars' suspensions.

"I don't understand why they had to make (the hole) all the way over there when it happened right over here."

It turns out this was no ordinary, Cadillac-sized sinkhole.

The 36-inch concrete pipe that had corroded and failed was so fragile it posed a danger to people overhead. In addition, other subterranean pipes weren't exactly where they should have been.

The fixes could cost as much as $1 million.

Coincidentally, the faulty sewer pipe, which runs east-west along the south side of 1st Street, was slated for repair anyway. It's estimated to be at least 60 years old.

On Dec. 11, five days after the incident, the Bakersfield City Council approved a $1.5 million contract with Michels Corp. to rehabilitate several sewer lines including this one. That contract had already been in the works when the break happened.

Around this time, city crews began making unexpected discoveries out at 1st and L -- that the 1st Street sewer line was a bad actor and couldn't be rehabilitated as was originally planned before the failure.

More than a quarter-mile of it -- 1,400 feet -- had to be torn out and replaced, all the way from Chester Avenue to N Street.

On Jan. 8, the council approved spending up to $700,000 in Sewer Enterprise Fund monies -- paid from residents' sewer fees -- to do it.

A city report delivered to the council Jan. 8 emphasizes the gravity of the situation:

"... the existing sewer line was deteriorated to a point where more sinkholes could occur in the near future without emergency action to remedy this condition," it reads.

But the more city crews dug, the deeper they went into a slightly strange, underground world that wasn't quite the way it should have been according to the map.

"During construction of the sewer line, several unknown facilities (large concrete sewer vault, storm drain pipe, and two sewer pipes) were discovered," reads an update delivered to the council Wednesday.

These had to be bypassed, relocated, and the trench down 1st Street had to be shored up.

"It's interesting when you do work on the fly the different things you can find. We discovered a whole storm drain we didn't even know was there," said Construction Superintendent Rick Millwee. "You look at that and you're like, 'Oh my goodness, I didn't know that was there.'"

City officials now know all about that storm drain, and the exact location of the vault, an underground concrete box connecting six sewer lines. But that knowledge wasn't free.

The council on Wednesday approved spending up to an additional $300,000 on the repairs -- bringing the total maximum project cost to $1 million.

Curbing at 1st and L streets should be poured, and the entire street repaved by the end of this week, according to Street Superintendent Mike Connor.

"Over my 34-plus years here, we've only had -- that's the second one. Jim Burke (Ford) was the first one and this was the second," Connor said, recalling a canal culvert break about 10 years ago at 19th and Oak streets outside the dealership. He said it claimed three new cars and one Jeep with three people inside.

The initial $1.5 million contract with Michels will be adjusted downward, now that the 1st Street sewer line is no longer part of the original project and has been completely replaced.

And at 1st and L streets, neighbors are able once again to walk and drive down their streets.

On a recent weekday, husband and wife Deron Johnson, 91, and no relation to Drew Johnson, and Maria Owens, 89, surveyed the intersection with daughter-in-law Marisa Mackey as they remembered the December excitement.

"I was coming over here to see her and I couldn't get in. I had to call her and say, 'How do I get in?'" Mackey said.

Her mother-in-law said she took the whole thing in stride.

"Whatever they do over there is going to benefit us over here, so I don't fuss," Owens said.

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