At a Bay Ridge Sinkhole, Neighbors Fret, and Reminisce

by Michael Mosher on August 3, 2012

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To hear residents in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn talk on Thursday afternoon, it was as if the sky were falling.

The earth, at least, was definitely falling. A 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep crater of dirt and asphalt yawned on 79th Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues after the street suddenly caved in on Wednesday afternoon, nearly taking one resident’s car with it and drawing a crowd of onlookers.

This was the second sinkhole this summer in Bay Ridge, coming on the heels of a roughly 60-foot-deep collapse on June 28.

“That makes you a little nervous about the streets in the neighborhood,” said Paul Muccigrosso, 41, who was walking his dog, Chip, along 79th Street on Thursday afternoon. “And you know what? This is one of the prettiest blocks in the neighborhood.” He shook his head. “How do you even fix this?”

As construction workers mended the suddenly famous hole, neighbors peered into its depths from their front gates. A dentist on Fifth Avenue sauntered by on his lunch break, still wearing his green scrubs. People who lived two or three blocks away paused on the sidewalk to snap cellphone photos, leaning on the orange and white barriers ringing Bay Ridge’s newest attraction.

“We’re going to make a pool here,” one construction worker joked to an elderly woman who had stopped to inspect the work. “Get your bikini out!”

The woman, who would give her name only as Helen, said she had been avidly following the proceedings. “People are coming from all over,” she said. “It’s on the TV all the time.”

Down the block, Frank Colao, 60, who has lived on 78th Street and Fifth Avenue since 1968, had found some shady steps from which to observe the activity. He said he had planned to walk to a mall, but when an acquaintance came by to tell him about the collapse, he decided to have a look.

“I got nothing better to do,” Mr. Colao said. “Never a dull moment in Bay Ridge.”

Like several other longtime Bay Ridge residents, Mr. Colao had a sinkhole story or two, like the time, many years ago, when a Cadillac cruised along 78th Street only to fall into a big hole. Jerry Ferretti, a lifelong local resident, said he could recall several sinkholes opening up in the area over the past 60 years, including two that swallowed trucks.

The city said the current sinkhole opened up after a 112-year-old sewer pipe burst 20 feet beneath the surface. Workers spent two hours extracting a teetering car from the hole. They were expected to finish repairs by the end of the weekend, said Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.

As work continued, it seemed every Bay Ridge resident had become a sinkhole expert. Some speculated that the soil had been weakened after utility repairs earlier in the week. Mr. Ferretti advanced another theory: because the neighborhood was originally built into a hillside, he said, the soil was never stable to begin with.

But authorities emphasized that the aging pipe — not the weather or the utility work — 

ultimately did the street in. Sinkholes are caused by water that seeps through cracks in the roadway or from underneath and that washes away the soil, creating a cavity under the street, Mr. Gilbride said.

Brian Guagliardi sized the sinkhole up with an expert eye. “Looks like about 12 feet or so,” he said to his wife as he hurried down 79th Street.

“The guy said 30!” his wife insisted.

Mr. Guagliardi deemed the summer’s first sinkhole, on 92nd Street, deeper — about 60 feet. (The city said the June sinkhole is still undergoing repairs because of its depth.)

“We’re getting used to it, unfortunately,” said Mr. Guagliardi, adding that he witnessed a third sinkhole in more recent years. He and his wife tossed a few nickname ideas back and forth. Her suggestion: “Hole-y Street.” And his? “Number three.”

Whatever their beliefs about its origins, the area’s residents were united in exasperation and a little hand-wringing — and, in one case, the discovery of a shared past.

Ann Kelly, 86, had stopped to survey the damage on her way back from a manicure. She gave Evelyn McCabe, whose house stands a few yards away from the sinkhole, a sympathetic smile. “It’s a mess, it really is,” she said.

“Oh, it’s terrible, it’s awful,” Ms. McCabe said, shaking her head. As it turned out, the two women grew up around the corner from each other and attended the same church.

“Someone called me and said, ‘Bay Ridge is underwater!’ Because so many things have happened,” Ms. Kelly told Ms. McCabe. “But I would never leave.”

“I would never leave,” Ms. McCabe agreed.

“Nope!”

“Nope!”

Full article…here

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