A Widening Washout

Growing Sinkhole Closes Road in Downtown Windsor

  • Dennis Willey of Willey Earthmoving uses an excavator to widen a sinkhole while searching for the source of the sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Dennis Willey of Willey Earthmoving uses an excavator to widen a sinkhole while searching for the source of the sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Windsor Road Foreman Erick Tarczewski, takes a break from searching for the source of a sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Windsor Road Foreman Erick Tarczewski, takes a break from searching for the source of a sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dennis Willey of Willey Earthmoving uses an excavator to widen a sinkhole while searching for the source of the sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Windsor Road Foreman Erick Tarczewski, takes a break from searching for the source of a sinkhole on Ascutney Street in Windsor, Vt., on May 19, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Windsor — Town officials are grappling with what could be more than $100,000 and several weeks of repairs as the result of a failed culvert and nearby sinkhole on Ascutney Street in downtown Windsor.

The problem rose to the top of the Highway Department’s to-do list when the sinkhole in the southbound lane between Fitch Court and the entrance to Windsor High School grew from a depth of 10 inches to six feet following heavy rain on Friday.

Town officials subsequently closed the affected portion of the street to vehicular traffic, forcing homeowners Joanne Norton and Frank Robbins to temporarily halt renovations of their Ascutney Street home, which sits directly in front of the hole. The town also asked them to remove a dumpster from the property, said Robbins.

He said they had hoped to have the home ready to rent by the beginning of next school year, but it doesn’t look like that schedule will be feasible now.

“We’ve put everything on hold,” he said.

The street remained closed Monday while the town’s Highway Department excavated asphalt and soil in an attempt to find the cause of the sinkhole .

As he looked on, Windsor Highway Foreman Erick Tarczewski guessed that something may have gone wrong with the connection between a storm drain running from Dewey Avenue down to a 100-year-old stone culvert when the town replaced the water main beneath Ascutney Street three years ago.

He said town employees may have inadvertently crushed a piece of the old drainage system while they installed the water main.

By the end of a day of digging, however, Tarczewski had not yet located the cause of the sinkhole.

“It seems like a mystery,” he said.

Town officials planned to continue the search on Tuesday, said Tarczweski.

They know with certainty, however, that one of the flat stones which formed the top of the aged stone box culvert fell in and cracked, causing sediment to accumulate behind it, forcing water in different directions. The result is a hollowing of the ground above.

In an interview on Sunday, Town Manager Tom Marsh said there are concerns that there may be additional holes or voids present under Ascutney Street other than those which are detectable from the surface.

He warned that the situation is “a lot worse than it looks.”

Marsh indicated that expectations for the completion of repairs range from 2 to 6 weeks.

He also said the fix will be costly.

“Six figures anyway,” he said.

Tarczewski said the culvert was fine when he examined it two years ago. He guessed that the capstone caved in as a result of heavy rains last July, which played havoc on infrastructure throughout the region. In Windsor alone, Tarczweski said last summer’s storms caused well over $1 million in damage.

He said the town plans to dig down some 18 feet to remove the old stone culvert and replace it with a new 36-inch plastic pipe.

Before the Highway Department can get to work on the culvert, however, Green Mountain Power will need to relocate two poles, one of which carries high-voltage lines.

A GMP employee who visited the site on Monday declined comment.

They would begin work on the culvert as soon as those poles are moved, he said.

Robbins said he and Norton checked with their insurance company to see whether they would be covered if the sinkhole swallowed their Ascutney Street house. He said the insurance agent “wasn’t sure” if their policy would cover such a loss.

“I’m just really glad we didn’t have any tenants in there or anything,” said Robbins. The previous residents left May 1.

Ascutney Street resident Jennifer Rupp said Monday she had spoken with town officials and felt reassured that it was safe for her children to use the sidewalk and for her to park cars in her nearby driveway. Rupp took a positive view of things, commending town officials for reacting quickly to residents’ infrastructure concerns and saying that the lack of through traffic on the street made it “very quiet.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.