25 May 2010

Large Sinkhole Opens in Downtown Detroit

The Detroit News

A large sinkhole has opened up at the site of the former Lafayette Building between Shelby and Griswold downtown.

The sinkhole, which is 10 to 12 feet deep and about 20 feet wide, developed late Wednesday night at the property next to the famed Lafayette Coney Island restaurant.

A break in a Detroit Water and Sewerage Department line located above a DTE Energy gas line, also damaged, caused the sinkhole, water department spokesman George Ellenwood said today.

It will take at least two weeks before the area will be reopened to drivers, Ellenwood said.

It appears crews contracted to demolish the Lafayette Building accidentally damaged the lines, Ellenwood said.

"We believe the break is related to the demo work," he said. "First, we do the repairs, then we look at who bears the cost. It is an issue to be determined."

Adamo Demolition Co. is performing the work. Company attorney John Gillooly said the site has a history of sinkholes and that the city may be at fault for the matter.

"Our crews were limited to areas with no water," he said. "This demolition went without a hitch."

Gillooly said the company notified the city at least twice about water leaks on the property and that it was "not a possibility" that heavy equipment used by crews could have caused the leak via vibrations from moving about. He insisted crews never hit a line.

Water department employees shooed away media and gawkers who got close to the edge of the sinkhole today because there was nothing underneath to support any weight, they said.

"We are not sure of the stability under the pavement," Ellenwood said. "We try to keep people away form the edge."

Ellenwood was not certain if Lafayette Coney Island or its adjacent rival, American Coney Island, are in danger of sliding into the sinkhole.

"I am sure the city will make sure none of the other structures are damaged in other ways," he said.

Adamo began tearing down the Lafayette Building this fall, but delays prevented the company from performing work over the winter.

Officials with the company told The Detroit News for a story last month that the job would not be completed by June 1.

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