Sinkholes pop up in Columbia

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Works is dealing with an issue that's growing underneath its feet.

The department started repairing a sinkhole and installing 120 feet of new drainage piping at Crescent Electric Supply Co. off Nebraska Avenue last week.

The owner had noticed the driveway of his company sinking and cracking, and the department said it worried that, if it collapsed, it would strike an exposed gas line beneath it.

Erin Keys, a civil engineer with CPW, said the number of sinkholes in the city has grown in the last five years because of ageing infrastructure and eroded storm water systems and that have seen little maintenance.

Keys said some of the storm water systems are more than 100 years old.

"They are very difficult to maintain because of the variety of utilities that are near them," Keys said. "We have problems like this all over Columbia where we know of sinkholes opening up, and we try to go in and patch them when we can until we can get around to replacing the system that needs to get replaced."

In order to fund costly repairs and preventative maintenance, the city is proposing a measure that would gradually increase the monthly storm water utility rate from $1.69 for the average household to around $4 in 2019. The measure will be on the April election ballot.

The city hasn't increased the rate since the utility was created in 1993. Keys said CPW would probably not be able to fund capital projects that provide preventative maintenance if the proposition is voted down. In that case, he said, the city would still have provide alternate funding to fix serious sinkholes.