A sinkhole has developed along the Riverwalk below the Morris Museum of Art, and one Augusta resident is pointing his finger at the city.
According to Ken Kehr, sprinklers in the area ran for 72 hours straight the weekend of August 24-25, causing a hole to develop next to the seawall that has since been cordoned off.
Kehr keeps a houseboat at the Riverwalk Marina and walks his dogs along the Riverwalk several times a day, a routine that gives him a perspective of the riverside park most don’t have.
“I get more value out of the Riverwalk than anybody in the community,” he said at 8:30 a.m. last Friday morning, at which point, according to his wrist-mounted pedometer, he’d already logged 8,300 steps. “We’ll do this again probably around 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. We’ll walk down the other way, almost to the Boathouse.”
On an average day, he’ll walk 20,000-30,000 steps. Some days he’ll even push 40,000.
“From my boat down to the end by the Morris Museum and back is almost exactly a mile,” he said. “It takes me about 30 minutes down and back when I have the dogs.”
It’s because he walks the Riverwalk so consistently, he said, that he’s so certain about the water causing the damage.
“The sprinklers down there don’t even sprinkle,” he said. “They just squirt up in the air.”
And each time he walked the Riverwalk that weekend, the water was squirting up in the air.
“Friday, the sprinklers were going,” he said. “I kept thinking someone was going to do something, but Friday night turned into Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night. Then Sunday morning about 10 a.m. I called 311 and they go, ‘We’re closed until Monday.’”
After his call to the non-emergency request hotline, which is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., he called Augusta Utilities.
“You know what I got from that guy?” he asked. “’That’s not our problem, that’s Parks and Recreation.’ Well, you can’t reach anyone in Parks and Recreation on the weekend.”
Calling the main number after hours on the weekend gets a recorded message listing the hours of operation. The message also gives an emergency number, but, at this point, a frustrated Kehr said he didn’t call it. Instead, he waited for someone else to make a notification.
“I expected some city employees or some police officers or even the people in the Morris Museum to do something,” he said. “But the first thing Monday morning they were out there, so somebody must have gotten in touch with them.”
In spite of a full weekend of watering, Recreation, Parks and Facilities Director Robert Levin denied the water from the running sprinklers had anything to do with the sinkhole.
“The sinkhole has to do with some kind of a failure of the base so that water has gotten through the base and washed out through the base and is therefore sucking the material that is under the walk,” he said. “We have to correct that, but that’s not related.”
So 72 hours of running water didn’t have anything to do with the water erosion that caused the sinkhole?
“I kind of doubt it caused the failure,” he said. “The failure occurred. It’s a 25-year-old construction project at the seawall. I kind of doubt it would be some irrigation water that did it. It’s more of something that occurred over a long period of time.”
Levin said he did not know how much the repair would cost, but he has emailed the Engineering Department about whether any repairs could be done in-house or if they needed to be contracted out.
Either way, he said, finding out will take some time, since they can’t proceed without an assessment.
As for the cost of 72 hours of running water, Levin would say only that the city pays the Utilities Department for the water, though they do pay the lowest rate.
Though Kehr was quick to point out that he has never been upset at the city workers or the detail of prisoners who work the area, he remained generally critical of city oversight along the Riverwalk, especially the trash cans, which he said are seldom totally emptied.
“These guys are overworked and understaffed,” he said. “They’ll pick up trash, but they’re not doing litter, and a lot of times they’re just reaching in and grabbing the first couple of bags. Then, the animals down here will just climb in. I’ve come down here and found possums — mothers with babies still suckling — lying the there dying because they can’t get out of the trash can.”
However, Kehr said he has never felt unsafe, no matter what time he’s out walking.
“For almost 13 years I’ve always felt safe,” he said. “And I walk at midnight and 1 a.m. There will be homeless people here, but they don’t bother you. They’re laying there sleeping.”
He also admitted that walking with his boxer tends to keep people at a distance.
“They’re scared to death,” he said. “Grown men are scared to death.”