HUNTINGTON - A portion of 5th Avenue in Huntington will be reduced to one lane until Friday, June 1, as crews work to repair a sinkhole that opened up early Wednesday morning, according to Brian Bracey, director of the Huntington Water Quality Board.

The left three lanes at the intersection of 26th Street and 5th Avenue are closed as a result of a 12-inch sewer line collapse, which caused a sinkhole to form. Access to 26th Street from 4th Avenue is also closed to traffic. Bracey said crews were working since 3 a.m. Wednesday to locate the collapsed line.

Wes Leek, director of the Huntington Sanitary Board, said it took most of the morning to locate the line, which was about 15 feet deep. He said about 15 feet of the 12-inch clay sewer line probably will have to be replaced.

Leek said he expected the road to reopen Friday morning.

Although the cause of the collapse is unknown at this time, Leek said it is likely due to the age of the line, which is over 80 years old. He added that the sewer collapse occurred at the connector of the line that runs underneath 26th Street and the main line along 5th Avenue.

In 2014, a sinkhole opened up in the same area; however, Bracey said that was due to a collapse of a different line in the vicinity.

Bracey added that he has discussed preventative maintenance strategies with the Huntington Sanitary Board, but those options will be costly.

He said one option would be to install liners inside the pipes to reinforce them from the inside and prevent future collapses.

With over 300 miles of pipeline in the city, Bracey said the city is working to identify which lines are in the most critical condition and in need of the preventative maintenance.

He added that a project of this magnitude will require another rate increase.

The Huntington City Council approved a 57 percent rate increase spread over three years for the Huntington Sanitary Board in December 2016.

The last of the three sewer rate increases is scheduled to take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and will raise the minimum monthly bill to $20.80 and the average to $27.39.

The rate increase is intended to pay for nine capital improvement projects totaling $7.5 million, as well as offset increases in health insurance and sludge removal costs. When the rate increase was initially proposed, the Sanitary Board was looking to tackle 15 capital improvement projects totaling about $75 million.

The rate increase that was approved is the source of ongoing litigation with Steel of West Virginia, which sued the Huntington Sanitary Board following the increase, claiming that proper notice was not given to the public prior to Huntington City Council's vote on the increased rates. That lawsuit is currently before the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

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