WINSLOW — Workers were laboring hard Wednesday to secure a sewer main that was suspended about 10 feet above the bottom of a sinkhole that formed off Halifax Street after a weekend of heavy rain and snowmelt.

“Our biggest concern right now is the sewer main. If it collapses and fails, then the raw sewage could end up in the river,” said Winslow’s public works director, Paul Fongemie, referring to the Sebasticook River, which runs parallel to Halifax Street.

The line in question is an important one, as it serves about three-quarters of the Winslow residents who live on the north side of the Sebasticook, Fongemie said.

Pedestrians and drivers aren’t able to see the sinkhole from the roadside. However, 100 feet onto the vacant stretch of land close to where a former sawmill stood and opposite Bilodeau’s Body Shop and Used Cars at the intersection with Hallowell Street, a gaping hole in the earth lined with tree branches and roots yawns. It is about 50 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The 24-inch sewer line is suspended in the middle.

At some point over the weekend, a small crack in a drainage pipe near the sewer line grew larger from the heavy rain and melted snow and subsequently sucked the dirt from the ground, creating a sinkhole.

Fongemie received a call from the Fire Department on Sunday afternoon, alerting him to the matter, and he has been coordinating with contractors and excavators since then to remedy the situation.

Workers from the Ted Berry Co., which is based in Livermore and deals with sewers, wastewater, storm drainage and other utility management, put in a sewer bypass so the sewage doesn’t run through the endangered main while a crew works to secure it and fix the broken drain pipe.

“We set up a sewer bypass, so you don’t have to worry about any sewage getting in the ground,” said Eric Gemelli, a worker from Ted Berry at the site Wednesday afternoon. “You can work on it, fix the drainage pipe, fill the hole back in and life’s great.”

If the problem hadn’t been discovered, Gemelli said, the bank of the hole would have continued to cave in and the hole would have become larger. Eventually, the sewer main would break and sewage would penetrate the ground.

Because of the sewer main’s importance, the crew has worked carefully to repair the drainage pipe quickly and not to disrupt the neighbors, Fongemie said. Because they were able to put in the sewer bypass, no one’s service or utilities had to be shut off, he said; and thankfully, because of the hole’s distance from the road, traffic has not been obstructed by the project, either.

“Of all the places to have a problem, this was a pretty good place to have one,” Fongemie said.

The only inconvenience might be the pumps that will be running for the next several nights to redirect sewage, but those pumps don’t emit much noise, he said.

“Hopefully folks have their windows closed,” he said.

To secure the sewer main and the drain pipe, a system of steel boxes that eventually will be filled with concrete will be situated underneath the pipes as a means of support.

Gemelli said the company began work Wednesday morning, and he expected the crew would have the problem fixed and the hole filled in by Friday.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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