As repair crews from the Department of Environmental Protection were busy working at the scene of the 20-foot-deep sinkhole that erupted on 79th Street, local officials and residents expressed concern that the cave-in, the second this summer, is a troubling sign of things to come.
The sinkhole, which erupted at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday on 79th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues and swallowed three parked cars, was caused by a ruptured sewer line that undermined the street, according to Councilman Vincent Gentile.
“The sewer is over 100 years old,” Gentile said.
No one was injured in the cave-in, officials said.
Still, residents said they viewed it as a close call. They’re grateful no one was hurt, but they’re afraid more sinkholes will develop in other places in Bay Ridge and that the next time someone will be injured or killed.
“I am worried that it could happen again,” Marie Carreras, a Bay Ridge resident, said as she walked down 79th Street Thursday morning to get a closer look at the sinkhole. “You had the other one, now this one,” she said.
“We can’t be certain that if these breaks continue to happen, we won’t see another sinkhole form,” Gentile said.
In late June, a 70-foot-deep sinkhole erupted on 92nd Street between Ridge Boulevard and Third Avenue. It too, was caused by a ruptured sewer line, Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, said. Repairs at that site are still ongoing, more than a month after the sinkhole first developed.
The two sewer line ruptures could be a sign that a major sewer replacement project is needed, Gentile said. “We may be witnessing the end of life of our aging infrastructure. This sewer was installed over 100 years ago. It’s almost as if the previous generations are passing us the baton. They’re saying to us, ‘We installed it and it lasted this long. Now it’s your turn to do something,’” he said.
Gentile said he would request a meeting with D.E.P. officials “to get a better understanding of our infrastructure.”
Beckmann said 79th Street residents told her they believe construction work in the street might have contributed to the cave-in on Wednesday.
“Residents said there was heavy construction by National Grid on the block. There was an open trench near where the cave-in later took place. You have a lot of digging, a lot of rattling, and a 100 year old sewer pipe. It’s not a good combination,” she said.
Repairs at the 79th Street site are expected to take two weeks to complete, Beckmann said. “This one (at 79th Street) looks a lot worse that 92nd Street because it’s wider. But it’s not as deep as the one on 92nd Street,” she said.
On Thursday, vehicular traffic was not permitted on 79th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues in order to allow repair crews a chance to work. Pedestrians were given access to the sidewalk on one side of the street.
The sink hole stretched from curb to curb from one side of 79th Street to the other. A small crowd of onlookers stood by and watched the D.E.P. repair crews at work.
Most of the residents on 79th Street did have water, electricity, and gas service in their homes in the aftermath of the street cave-in, Beckmann said. The exception was the house at 452 79th St., which did not have water. “Their sewer line was cut in the collapse. They’re getting water from their neighbors,” she said.
As she walked down the block, Carreras shook her head. “I told my sister I didn’t want to move down to Florida to live near her because I was afraid of all of the sinkholes they get down there. And we have two,” she said.