Biloxi crews replacing infrastructure are 'digging blind'

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - We've all heard the warning to call before you dig. But for a city that is working to replace storm damaged and aging water and sewer lines, there's no one to call to find out what's underground.

Recently, construction crews putting in a storm drain in Biloxi near Keesler Air Force Base got a surprise. City officials said as the crews were digging, base officials came running out saying one wrong move and the base hospital would be shut down.

"Probably would have knocked out the power and then the sewer pump station," said Project Manager Marvin Dalla Rosa. "They say they had about an hour before that thing would have overflowed. It's something to be very careful of."

Crews are trying to be very careful in a massive infrastructure replacement project, mostly in East Biloxi. Officials say what's underground has been here for decades and blueprints were lost in Hurricane Katrina.

"When you start digging, you have two problems," said George Lawrence, Ward 1 Council Member. "Most of it's deteriorated. The other problem is it's not located exactly where you think it is, because over the time the streets have kind of moved and changed."

Dalla Rosa said, "As you're digging, you always have to be aware that you're going to run into stuff that you didn't anticipate. You have to be prepared to repair damage that happened when that happens and to be able to change your designs to accommodate."

Officials said designs are also being tweaked as construction goes on in an effort to save Biloxi's precious oak trees.

"Some of these lines were put in 40, 50, 60 years ago. In the meantime, trees have grown up around them and as we're putting in new lines, those trees sometimes will be impacted," said Dalla Rosa. "We try to minimize that every chance we get and we do a lot of designs to go around them. But sometimes it's unavoidable because it's a low spot in the system or it's where the natural drainage ways are."

Officials said issues from damage from digging have caused delays, but so far have not caused the project to go over budget.

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