Visiting Sparta's Underground

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Sparta-While the frigid weather is only months away, Sparta Township is still trying to recover from last winter. Every year, icy roadways force the municipality's Department of Public Works to spread salt and calcium on local streets. In addition to damage to the roads these materials create, they also wreak havoc on storm water basins. Both salt and calcium eat away at the cement inside of the basins, causing cracks. As water freezes and refreezes, the cracks become larger and larger. "Besides the actual surface of the roads, keeping these basins together is one of the biggest maintenance issues we have," said DPW Director Tom Spring last week. The township maintains some 2,883 basins, most of which have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. Throughout spring and summer months, the DPW assigns a three-person crew to check and repair basins. "If you find one of these in the middle of January, you aren't fixing them because concrete freezes," said Spring. "Every winter, we get one or two that need to be barricaded with cones put around it, so people don't drive by." The repair crew is assigned to find problematic basins before they are completely compromised and cave in. However, Spring said that despite the crew's best efforts, between 10 and 12 basins collapse each year. Last week proved Spring's estimate when two separate structures buckled on the same day. The one damaged basin was located on Lambert Drive and the other just off of Doe Run Road. The DPW repair crew was immediately beckoned to stop making their normal rounds, so that they could re-cement the inside portion of the fallen structures. According to Spring, in rare cases, basins that are completely compromised cannot be fixed with plaster. If a basin completely falls apart, it would need to be pulled out of the ground and rebuilt. Spring said that that is the situation he tries to avoid with preventative maintenance. "We check them on a routine basis," said Spring. "All of the roads we oil and stone, we go ahead before and check the basins." As part of state storm water runoff regulations, the DPW cleans each basin once a year, and in the process, workers check for damaged structures. Despite this, every year, the repair crew continues to work right up until winter weather begins. "If we didn't have winter, we wouldn't have these problems," said Spring. "You don't see catch basins collapsing in Arizona."