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Stinkhole 

What you learn after it hits the fan.

Ten things I learned while hanging around the sinkhole the other day. No, not Republican Party headquarters. I said the sinkhole, not the stinkhole.

1. Amazingly, just like the motion of discipline and hard feelings in the military and other hierarchies, shit really does flow downhill. Sewer pipes don't have pumps or valves; they simply slant downward at a slight angle and gravity does the rest. The pipe that ruptured is just below the surface where it starts, out by Rita Ranch. It snakes through town, carrying waste to the Roger Road Treatment Plant, and is nearly 20 feet below the surface right there on Speedway, where the break occurred.

Since the stuff flowing through the pipes is mostly liquid, it amounts to an 18-million-gallon river of waste flowing through that pipe every day.

2. Despite being subjected to the horrible smell (things like this always seem to happen in hot weather), the traffic detours and the maddening 24-hour-a-day noise from the huge, diesel-powered pumps that were brought in from around the Southwest to help divert the flow, the people in the neighborhood, for the most part, have been way cool about the massive inconvenience.

I spoke to several residents, and while no one is happy about the situation, most expressed support for the crews that are working to fix the mess. Some people had to be moved into hotels, while most in the surrounding area have stayed and are dealing with the sensory assault as best they can.

3. Notable exception to the last category: The woman who went on local TV the night it happened with dollar signs in her eyes. She was ranting and raving about how she needed to get some money out of this because her kids had been traumatized when they turned on the faucet and some brown stuff came out.

There's so much wrong with that, I don't know where to start. First of all, Lady, a pipe busted. You did not win the Lotto. More importantly, the water line and sewer line are separated by almost 20 feet of compact dirt under your street. Even more importantly, the water line is pressurized, so even if it were to break (which it eventually did after the broken sewer line ate up all the dirt above it, causing the sinkhole to form), the water would flow out under great pressure. Nothing would be able to go into the water pipe. All in all, a shamefully greedy move on your part. Heck, you should have screamed "Whiplash!" It would have been more believable.

4. Rick Gary, whom I've known since our basketball days back at Cochise College (which is still known as the politically incorrect Home of the Apaches), is the spokesman for Wastewater Management. He has somehow managed to trick people who don't know him very well to address him as the more pompous "Roderick."

Rick gave 20 good years to the Arizona Daily Star, covering education and other topics, before diving for the exit in the early days of the Amari Dynasty. Dude, after 20 years at the Star, that sinkhole probably smells like Popeye's Chicken.

5. People around the Valley will undoubtedly wince when the final tally for fixing the thing comes in. Already, I've heard people complaining about costs and man-hours. From what I saw, these guys are putting forth a heroic effort. Many are working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. And before your tiny little mind can formulate a snotty thing to say involving overtime pay, just remember that a lot of these guys are having to work while standing waist-deep in whatever it was that you had for dinner last Saturday.

6. Yes, before all the pumps could be brought in from other cities, some of the waste was flowing into the Santa Cruz River. But do you think that anything that we put in there can be as bad as what had already flowed northward from Nogales, Sonora? Whatever we're putting into the river is doing thousands of dollars worth of improvements. Besides, it all flows into Marana, anyway.

7. The pipe that broke was made of concrete and was installed around 40 years ago. The reason for the break was probably two-fold. First, there is a concentration of hydrogen sulfide in the waste material and it interacts with bacteria in the almost-steamy conditions inside that pipe to form sulfuric acid, which can literally eat away at concrete.

Second, the sheer force of the liquid flowing through there can have a strong eroding effect. Water formed the Grand Canyon, and apparently this pipe went from being several inches thick to being paper-thin before it finally broke. Crews now install PVC pipe, which is impervious to those aforementioned destructive forces.

8. Another big thing was that the break occurred where the pipe makes a 90-degree turn. Obviously, all such pipes have to run under public streets. This one came north under Melrose, then turned west under Speedway. The pressure at that curve is enormous. All of the engineers took great pains to explain it without using the phrase, "When that shit comes around the corner..."

9. County Supervisor Richard Elias was a tad too Jesse Jackson-esque in his criticism of officials who favor outward development over the much-need repair of inner-city infrastructure, but his message was largely on target. Far too many people are willing to ignore the unglamorous infrastructure in their headlong rush to cater to the developers of that latest subdivision, Hasta La Quinta Chingada Estates.

10. While the sewer break is a county problem, city crews have been helping out in a surprisingly cooperative effort. Alas, while the crews on-site are working together well, already there are rumblings and finger-pointing going on elsewhere. Some county people are floating the suggestion that the damage was caused by a break in the water line, which would make it a city snafu.

This doesn't match the timeline; the sewer line almost certainly broke first. But somebody has to be blamed for all this, so it looks like this stink is going to be around for quite a while.

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