Mayoral candidate Anita Lopez blasted opponent Mayor Mike Bell over the failure of water and sewer pipes that caused a giant sinkhole on Detroit Avenue last week that swallowed a car, luckily sparing the driver from serious injury.
The Bell administration should have been doing a better job of identifying potential disasters and prioritizing spending to fix those problems, she said.
City crews completed repairs of damaged sewer lines during the weekend and repaired a damaged water line Monday. Road resurfacing is scheduled to start today, with reopening of Detroit’s southbound lanes tentatively set for Wednesday.
Standing in Detwiler Park across Summit Street from Toledo’s wastewater treatment plant, Ms. Lopez, the Lucas County Auditor and a Democrat, said she would hire an outside engineer to assess which sewer and water lines are in dangerous condition.
“The sinkhole that happened last week is another sign of the problem that we’re facing with an administration that has not been transparent,” Ms. Lopez said. “I will call for an audit of every dollar and every transaction that is taking place. We need to know how we’re [paying for] addressing the problems of Toledo’s water and sewer lines.”
A break in a combined storm-sanitary sewer under Detroit at Bancroft Street caused the road surface to cave in suddenly Wednesday. A car driven by Pamela Knox, 60, of Toledo, tumbled into the hole. She was rescued and was treated at Toledo Hospital.
Mayor Bell’s spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, said the administration has been raising the alarm since 2010 with city council about the aging condition of the water-and-sewer-pipe system under the city.
She said the collapse happened because an intersection of two 36-inch and 30-inch combined storm and sanitary sewers broke and sucked in the earth around the hole, resulting in a cavity. Ms. Sorgenfrei said she didn’t know the repair cost.
Ms. Lopez said she tried to call the water department on Monday afternoon and was told by a recorded voice that she was the 30th person waiting to be answered. She vowed that if she is elected, every call to the Department of Public Utilities would be answered by a live person.
“If you can’t get your staff to answer the phones in a timely manner, it scares me how you’re going to handle 1800[-era] water and sewer lines that should have been addressed years ago,” Ms. Lopez said.
She said that the eroded condition of the ground below Detroit Avenue was discovered by a sinkhole larger than a car is “a major problem.” She said an outside engineer would bring a fresh perspective, and she suggested there is technology the city should have to help detect problem areas.
Ms. Sorgenfrei said the $450 million Toledo Waterways Initiative — a program to upgrade the water treatment system and end the dumping of untreated sewage into the Maumee and Ottawa rivers — is being overseen by an independent engineering firm. She said the city is inspecting 50 miles of the city’s 1,100 miles of sewer annually, but she said she didn’t know when or if the lines under Detroit Avenue had been checked.
In addition to Mr. Bell and Ms. Lopez, five other people are expected to run for mayor on the Sept. 10 ballot. They are independent City Councilman D. Michael Collins, who became the first candidate to file petitions on Monday; Democratic City Councilman Joe McNamara; independent city neighborhood development specialist Alan Cox; Libertarian retired city finance worker Michael Konwinski, and evangelist Republican Opal Covey.
Staff Writer Sam Gans contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.