Underground Tunnels Challenge Hot Springs Engineers from Past to Present

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 12:00 am  

Chitwood said it’s difficult to find firms that will work on a structure like the tunnel. “You have to find somebody that can stretch themselves a little bit and perform some maintenance work that they normally don’t do,” Chitwood said.

Despite its size, it’s still considered a confined space, he said.

“You have to go through confined space permitting to enter it,” he said. “If you have a certain area to look at, it takes some planning to access that area because it is very limited access. Various stretches of the tunnel are constantly being eroded away at the foundation where you’ll have to have grout repairs done once every 10 or 20 years.”

It’s dangerous, too. Not only are the walkways slippery, but the water flowing through the tunnel is so hot that, in the summertime, it’s possible to be overcome by the heat. Chitwood said some workers have had to be lifted out of manholes after fainting.

This year, Atoka’s job, paid for by a $53,678 federal disaster recovery grant, will be to repair some cracks and perform some general maintenance work, Chitwood said. But there are other, more difficult issues plaguing the tunnel.

Max Sestili, stormwater manager for Hot Springs, said a crack in the tunnel’s ceiling along Park Avenue has appeared underneath a pair of hotels, one vacant and one an active Relax Inn. As a result, part of the active hotel had to be condemned.

But the city has had a hard time performing work: “No contractors in their right mind are willing to send guys down there to perform that kind of repair,” Sestili said. “We are looking into purchasing the vacant hotel and tearing it down, then opening up the creek again. At that point we’ll be able to access the cracked portion under the active hotel and find some people willing to do it at that point.”

Eureka Springs faces even steeper challenges. Because of the lack of oversight in building the rambling tunnels, some areas have ended up being littered with debris.

“Finding junk metal and stuff was one of the big problems,” Allen said.

Some of the tunnel is in great shape, he said, but some limestone walls and ceilings are failing, putting some buildings and parking lots above at risk.

Because of the businesses above, maintenance is extremely difficult. “You can’t do any excavating there,” Allen said.

He said the city has considered installing modern storm drains and filling in the tunnels with concrete.



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