OCEAN CITY — A gaping sinkhole at the intersection of Bay Avenue and 20th Street was caused by a weakened sewer pipe, officials said Thursday.

To address the issue long-term, Peter Eschbach, a spokesman for New Jersey-American Water, said the company is going to replace about 150 feet of the pipe with a plastic material. On Thursday night a heavy-duty metal plate was covering the hole, and the roads were open to local traffic.

The pavement for the affected portion of Bay Avenue, from 20th Street to Spruce Road, will be cut today, and the pipe replacement will be complete by Saturday, Eschbach said.

On Thursday morning, traffic remained blocked near where the 8-foot-deep sinkhole opened up on Wednesday, but the situation caused few other concerns to most in the area.

Classes started out smoothly at the nearby Ocean City Intermediate School, with no latecomers and no backups in traffic, Principal Jeff Haines said.

Road workers and a police officer were the only ones on site Thursday morning.

Eschbach said the sinkhole needed to be dug deeper in order to reach the pipes, after which the crews could see that the pipe had caved in.

The digging revealed a 16-inch diameter cement pipe made of materials that were common in the 1960s, Eschbach said.

The way the material reacts with elements inside and outside the pipe resulted in the weakening, he said, explaining that the soil in areas closer to shore tends to be more "aggressive"and weakens the pipe from the outside as the pH levels of the soil act on the chemical composition of the cement.

On the inside, gaseous sulfuric acid that comes from bacteria in the pipe eats away at the material, Eschbach said.

Eric and Bonnie Schepps, who live at the corner of the intersection, said they saw the situation unfold Wednesday. Bonnie Schepps said it started out as a pothole that she first noticed it about 4 p.m.

“We heard trucks go by, and it sounded like they hit a great big hole,” she said. “Next thing you know there is an officer outside. It just sunk right in. It happened in minutes.”

When tractor trailers were driving over the hole, “they were going about a foot in the air bouncing,” Eric Schepps said.

“At first we thought it was a gas leak,” Eric Schepps said. “We didn’t open the door because we have five animals.”

Instead, the couple hid in the back of the house, and stayed away from the door, he said.

A gas company crew arrived at the scene Wednesday night and determined there was no leak.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

609-272-7247

Follow Anjalee Khemlani on Twitter @AnjKhem

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