RAINIER — The exact cause of a sinkhole threatening a business and highway here is still unknown, but state highway officials say one thing is certain: It will cost a lot of money to fix the problem.
The water-filled pit opened up behind Earth-n-Sun during the early December floods. It has gobbled up trees and dirt and the peace of mind of shop owner Jewell Forrest.
“I don’t even want to be here now,” she said Wednesday morning. “It’s disheartening.”
Sinkholes typically form when water and earth leak into a drainage pipe and is carried away, and the process eats away the overlying earth. What happened in early December is different. The corrugated metal culvert that carries Fox Creek through downtown Rainier was so overwhelmed with water that it spurted out of the pipe (like a leaky home water line) and washed away the overlying dirt, said Lou Torres, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“When water exited that broken, corrugated culvert, it was looking for somewhere to go,” Torres said. “That’s how (the hole) developed.”
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Torres said it’s unclear the extent of the damage to the culvert. He said Wednesday that ODOT would be running a camera through the culvert and results will be available Thursday.
ODOT has assembled a project team that includes a geologist, hydrologist and engineers to determine how to fix the problem once they pinpoint the source or the trouble.
“It’s a complicated situation,” Torres said.
Meanwhile, the state is spending about $10,000 a day to pump water from the hole to keep it from flowing over nearby Highway 30. Much of that spending, he said, will be federally reimbursed because an emergency was declared for state highways during the flooding.
Torres said it’s unclear how much it will cost to repair or replace the damaged culvert, but it will be expensive.
“It’s not going to be a cheap solution,” he said. “The county and ODOT are working with the city to figure out how to financially do it.”
The Fox Creek culvert is now about 60 years old. A portion of the culvert that carried the creek through the old Rainier Elementary School property was dug up in the mid 1990s. It was failing and prone to being clogged with debris that the creek washes out of the densely wooded hills south of the city. The Friends of Fox Creek used the opportunity to restore that portion of the waterway to a free-flowing stream, but the waterway still moves under most of the downtown area through the culvert before pouring into the Columbia River.
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