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Unseen problems
After collapse, city studying aging storm sewers
robot out.jpg
An employee of Mayer Specialty Services, Goddard, wraps up removing a wheeled robot from a Great Bend storm water sewer Monday afternoon. A concrete section of the sewer that runs from near Great Bend High School to the Lischeskey drainage ditch is being examined after one section collapsed. - photo by Dale Hogg

Sure, they’ve found a goose.

But the displaced fowl found in the murky storm sewer near Brit Spaugh Park is not the real problem lurking in the subterranean system. That would be the falling rebar and crumbling concrete.

Twisting and turning beneath the streets of Great Bend is a dark labyrinth of storm-water sewers, many dating back 70-80 years. Sections of this have collapsed, most recently at 18th and Baker.

“We didn’t realize there was a problem,” said Simon Wiley, Great Bend assistant director of public works. Now, the city is taking steps to know the extent of the problem, hiring Mayer Specialty Services of Goddard.

The company’s task is to snake its wheeled robot through the nearly 5,000-foot section of sewer that runs from near Great Bend High School to the Lischeskey drainage ditch on east side of town, said Ashley Moseley of Mayer Specialty. The crew started  at the south entrance to Brit Spaugh Park Monday afternoon and will probably be done in about a week. 

With lights and a camera, the Pathfinder is about the size of a large remote control car, but with big wheels, Moseley said. Attached to a 1,000-foot tether, it is controlled by an operator in the back of a truck who can swivel the lens to point it where needed.

Mayer Specialty Services can’t just run the rover in one straight shot, either, Moseley said. Due to the turns, the robot is lowered and travels a short distances; then it’s pulled out of the manhole and moved to another location.

What did it see?

Those images being sent back Monday didn’t show a pretty picture. Dangling from the ceiling were strands of rusted rebar and patches where the concrete has fallen away, weaknesses that could easily lead to another collapse, Wiley said.

“This is stuff we’ve got to fix,” Wiley said. “It won’t be a cheap fix.”

Unlike pre-form box culverts that are common now, Wiley said these seven-foot wide, three-foot tall boxes were poured in place. This means one section can’t just be removed and replaced.

The city will receive a copy of the inspection video, with notations where there are problems, Wiley said. There was a demonstration for the Public Works Department Tuesday afternoon.

The cost for this work is $13,267.50. But, Wiley said it is important to know what they are up against.

Great Bend has a robot camera, but it is for regular sewers and is too small for this job, he said. The cost of a Pathfinder-like machine is about $80,000, but it may be worth it as there are storm sewers under Great Bend that also need inspecting.

As for the bird, Wiley said he’s seen reptiles and amphibians in sewers, but this was the first goose.

“I don’t know how the goose got in there,” he said. “I hope he finds his way out.”