Broken sewer main creates huge sinkhole near Macon's levee

A ruptured sewer main at the base of the Central City Park levee Wednesday left repair crewmen, some of them waist deep in the rain-swollen Ocmulgee River, rushing to stack sandbags where the busted concrete main had formed a 15-foot-wide sinkhole at the rising water’s edge.

“Let’s pick it up!” Macon Water Authority workers passing sandbags chattered as they heave-hoed the 35-pound sacks to one another down the levee’s slope. “My grandma can do it faster than this!”

Water authority workers discovered the sinkhole at about 9 a.m. Wednesday when they checked on the line, which was scheduled to be reinforced soon.

Tony Rojas, executive director of the authority, said the 36-inch pipe, which runs under the river from the city’s east side, flows to a treatment plant below the park. The line break happened near the end of the paved portion of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, just down from Macon Motor Boat Club.

“We knew the pipe might have had integrity issues, that it might be deteriorating to where it wasn’t structurally sound,” Rojas said.

The broken pipe is believed to have been corroded at a turbulent spot in the pipe where sewage flow switches from being pushed along by pumping pressure to being pulled by gravity.

There was some worry that if workers couldn’t keep the rising river at bay with a berm of sandbags and fill dirt that the Ocmulgee might breach the levee.

The makeshift repair, using a curved metal patch roughly the size of the hood of a car, was expected to be completed by day’s end.

“Until we get done,” Rojas said of the timetable.

The sandbagging scene Wednesday was reminiscent of the Flood of 1994 when, just upstream at the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge, the river seeped around the old Washburn building and pooled at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Crews worked around the clock to dam the intersection.

Water authority worker William Tanksley, 27, one of the sandbag tossers, joked to some city executives, office types who’d gathered on the levee Wednesday afternoon to assess the situation, “If you’re wearing khakis, please step back.”

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said later that 100 or so workers who stuffed sandbags, tied them off and sent them by tractor to their mates on the riverbank had “the old-fashioned bucket brigade going. ... This is when we are so proud of our public works.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.