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Englewood residents may face higher storm utility fees for repairs following second sinkhole

Council votes to spend $240,000 to replace pipe
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Posted at 1:01 AM, Jul 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-13 03:01:23-04

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Property owners in Englewood may face higher storm utility fees because of the latest sinkhole.

As engineers began replacing a 78-foot long section of damaged storm pipe earlier this month, they discovered another 110 feet of pipe had been weakened on the inside.

Heavy rains contributed to the sinkhole near the intersection of South Santa Fe and West Oxford Avenue, on July 2.

That sinkhole occurred nearly a year after a similar sinkhole swallowed a car, about a block away.

The driver in that incident narrowly escaped.

"The problem here is that the pipe is too small to handle all the water coming into it," said Maria D'Andrea, Englewood's Public Works Director. "It gets surcharged (during heavy rain events) and there is more pressure entering into this pipe."

D'Andrea said the aging storm pipe is six feet in diameter, but is made of corrugated metal.

She said during heavy rain events, lots of debris gets swept down the pipe. Some of that debris, which includes rocks and gravel, pounds the inside walls of the pipe, loosening the joints.

The Public Works Director told Denver 7 that crews are replacing the weakened corrugated metal with 6-foot diameter reinforced concrete.

"It's a much more stable material," she said, "that can withstand those pressures until we go for a longer term fix, which we hope to implement in the next several years."

On Thursday night, the Englewood City Council met in emergency session to approve an additional $120,000 for repairs.

That's on top of the $120,000 they had approved for the initial 78 foot section following the July 2 sinkhole.

When asked if the work will prevent any more sinkholes, D'Andrea replied, "Unfortunately we can't guarantee anything, but we are trying to be more proactive with our inspections and are staying on top of it."

Following the 2018 floods, the city commissioned a flood prone study and identified 13 projects around the city that have undersized pipes than need to be enlarged.

The estimated cost is $50 million.

"Our first priority is to repair the larger pipes downstream," D'Andrea said. "The other projects are prioritized based on the number of houses affected from a life safety standpoint, as well as working from downstream to upstream.

During a question and answer session at city hall on Friday, Englewood resident Aaron Reid asked Ms. D'Andrea if the storm pipes are being maintained/inspected at frequent enough intervals.

"Everything is connected," he said. "When you have one little weak breach in the chain...lots of things can go kaput."

D'Andrea said the city is monitoring the storm system and is conducting inspections after each mayor storm event.

She added that the city is trying to determine if it can bond for the critical 13 work projects against storm utility rates.

Mayor ProTem Rita Russel said she hasn't received any pushback about storm utility rates.

"The pushback from the public... is that we're not moving fast enough," she said.

Russel told Denver7 that council should be cautious about raising storm utility rates.

"I know that council does have the authority to make a decision to raise fees," she said, "but with a huge undertaking like this, it might be wise to send it to a vote of the people."