Broken water main cuts service, disrupts activities in Essex

Broken water main cuts service, disrupts activities in Essex
A crew works to repair a 16-inch water main that broke at Philadelphia Road in Essex. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kevin Rector)

Shortly before 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sarah Weber walked out of Binkert's Meat Products in Essex and locked the door behind her — an early departure for the third-generation sausage and deli meats producer.

Just down the hill, traffic narrowed and was pushed onto a shoulder as drivers passed a large, muddy hole in Philadelphia Road, surrounded by orange traffic cones and Baltimore public works crews.

A 16-inch-wide, city-owned water main burst under the road Monday morning, cutting water to Binkert's and more than a dozen other businesses, 60 homes and two nearby institutions — MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus.

"We're closing early, and we'll lose some business," Weber said as she locked the front door, a display case of meats darkened inside the brick building, next to a Royal Farms store that was also without water.

The business, started by Weber's German-immigrant grandfather in 1964, produces hundreds of pounds of German sausages and deli meat each week for restaurants and delis around the region, including many in Washington, Weber said.

Most production occurs at the start of the week, in time for deliveries Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the water outage will make it difficult to meet their orders, she said.

"We're hoping it comes back by tomorrow so we can continue production," Weber said. "We'll have to play catch-up."

At Franklin Square, bottled water and hand sanitizer replaced water fountains and hand-washing, while morning classes at CCBC-Essex were canceled. Businesses and homeowners braced for a night without water in their kitchens and bathrooms.

By 4 p.m., water had returned to the hospital and campus, a city public works spokesman said. The community college reopened at 5 p.m., and evening classes and activities were held as scheduled.

At Dellis' Bar & Grill on Philadelphia Road, water went out in the morning but was restored by the afternoon, a manager said.

And Loraine Luebben, a 60-year resident of Lennings Lane, said that when she got home from work about 3:30 p.m., her sink faucet sputtered when she first turned it on but then started running normally.

Crews were busy breaking up asphalt and excavating the hole in Philadelphia Road. A city dump truck parked nearby, as an excavator filled it with mud and crumbled pieces of the road. The damaged portion of the water main had been removed as of Monday evening.

Unlike recent water main breaks in the city, including one Monday morning at East Madison Street near Guilford Avenue, the Essex break did not cause lasting torrents of water.

Still, some business owners and residents remained unsure late Monday when their service would be restored.

"I don't know how long it's going to be out. They haven't said anything," said Deanna Reinhardt, who lives on nearby Mayflower Road.

Kurt Kocher, a public works spokesman, said crews would remain at the scene, and he was hopeful water service would be restored to all customers before Tuesday morning.

"They should be able to fix this," he said, noting electric lines were above ground in the area, out of the way of repair crews. "Hopefully, there aren't any other utilities down there."

Utility lines entwined with water lines underground have complicated recent repair jobs in the city, extending their duration and causing associated power and gas disruptions.

The city's water system serves a large portion of the region, including Baltimore County.

In addition to the Essex break and the 30-inch-wide water main that burst at East Madison, a 60-inch water main broke last week at East 20th and North Charles streets, flooding multiple streets. Other serious problems have occurred with the city's water infrastructure this year as well, including a large water main break on Light Street downtown this summer and multiple collapses of a storm runoff culvert on East Monument Street.

Repairs have stretched into the millions of dollars.

Many of the problems have occurred along lines that are decades old. The water main beneath Light Street was more than 120 years old. The burst water main in Essex is likely not as old, though Kocher could not immediately provide the date it was installed.

He did not know the cause of the break Monday afternoon.

Kocher said a break in a water main in one area of the city can cause pressure changes along other lines, thereby causing more problems. But he said he didn't think the downtown break Monday had caused the Essex rupture.