CHATHAM — If you were among the hundreds of motorists inconvenienced by the surprise closure of Stage Harbor Road early this week, try to see the bright side. Your car might’ve been swallowed by a sink hole instead.
About two months ago, town officials received word of drainage problems in a small bog on the east side of Stage Harbor Road opposite Oyster Pond Beach.
“The property immediately adjacent to that was flooded on several occasions,” Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said Tuesday. Two sink holes were identified in the area, and crews excavated and found no cause for the flooding. Officials suspected a problem with the drainage pipe that leads from the wetland, under Stage Harbor Road, to the Oyster Pond.
“We were concerned that the pipe from the bog was plugged,” Duncanson said. A video examination from one side seemed to confirm that theory, so town crews decided Monday to excavate and repair the pipe.
“We excavated it and found no pipe,” he said. “We did, however, find a huge void under the road.”
Water apparently caused the erosion of the ground underneath the pavement. Had the water not backed up on private property, the town would have had no reason to dig up the road.
“It was actually fortunate that we did it,” Duncanson said. Had the hole grown, it might have claimed a vehicle passing over the road.
A concrete head wall was installed in the ditch at the bottom of the bog, and that structure is confirmed on town drainage plans. But the plans also show a pipe leading under the road, and the excavation crew saw no sign of it.
The town even called former Highway Surveyor Gilbert “Gibby” Borthwick out of retirement to try and solve the mystery.
“He thought there was a pipe there too,” Duncanson said.
Without one, it appears the tide from Oyster Pond was allowed to flow in and out of the void, flushing away the earth that supported the road. It was not immediately clear whether the drainage pipe was truly missing or had just been moved out of place by the water.
As of press time Tuesday, crews were still at the scene, though town officials expected the roadway to reopen at least partially by the end of the day.
The closure of Stage Harbor Road caused traffic backups leading to the rotary, and motorists seeking to reach Stage Neck or Stage Harbor were forced to navigate downtown traffic to reach Cross Street, or to use Shore Road. Rainy weather Tuesday exacerbated the traffic problems.