Speer: A hole in the road nobody wanted

The other morning I was driving down Ripley well before daybreak when I came upon the Ripley water break. As I slowed and detoured into the center lane around the sunken patch of what once was the road surface I thought to myself “this lane really doesn’t seem much better than sunken patch beside it.”

Living in a region rich with limestone, sinkholes are not unfamiliar. Travel enough in the woods and fields of the region, or fish in some of the bodies of water locally, and very quickly you discover “sinks” are everywhere.

The last place you want to find a new one, however, is a major street in the city.

Readers might also remember I grew up in western Pennsylvania and went to college in West Virginia. For 10 years I worked and lived in East Ohio, all “coal country” areas where underground mining was a way of life.

And, because the land was honeycombed by underground shafts, occasionally subsidence was a issue and whole areas would suddenly sink into the earth.

Flashbacks to those areas went through my mind as I detoured around the Ripley break.

“What would it be like if you were the driver who passed across that section of road when it decided to cave in?” I wondered. One minute you’re contemplating what’s for dinner and the next you’re halfway to China.

Alpena City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the city was fortunate that no serious accident occurred at Ripley when the road gave way, especially given the amount of traffic on Ripley each day.

You bet they were. This hole in particular would gobble you up in a hurry.

This has been a strange winter as evidence by the fact most schools in the region missed three days of classes this week and the region received less than five inches of snow. It was the ice that canceled schools, and the freezing and thawing that caused the Ripley water break, as well as many others around the region.

“These temperature fluctuations are really tough on the system,” Sullenger said in a news story Friday. “We usually see a rash of breaks in the fall when we go from no frost to frost conditions, but we had two more leaks (Thursday) and I think it was directly related to the weather.”

Adding injury to insult at Ripley was the fact city Department of Public Works crews were busy plowing and salting city streets when the problem first was discovered, so the city had to contact a contractor to come in and do the initial repairs that were required.

Then there is this good news that the break is just the beginning of needed repairs to the system in that area. Other repairs to the system now have been identified and will need tackled once the weather breaks and frost has permanently left the ground.

All in all, it probably wasn’t one of Sullenger’s better work weeks.

Then again, at least he didn’t lose a car in the Ripley crater.