Dirt mound suspected in bridge damage dwindling

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- The removal of a massive mound of dirt suspected of causing a nearby interstate bridge in Delaware to tilt is almost complete.

Officials have said removing the dirt is the first step in getting the bridge repaired and reopened to traffic, a process expected to take weeks, if not months.

Two backhoes continued to claw away Sunday at the dirt mound beside the bridge, which normally carries about 90,000 vehicles a day on the Interstate 495 bypass around Wilmington.

James Thomas Jr., a contractor who dumped the mountain of dirt, which officials estimate at a weight of 50,000 tons, has been working with the state to remove it.

"I think they plan to have it all off by tonight ... That's what they're hoping," said Thomas's wife, Margaret.

James Thomas was not at home Sunday morning, but his wife said he had checked on the dirt mound Saturday night and likely would do so again during the day.

Meanwhile, state officials are awaiting the results of soil tests to determine whether the dirt dumped next to the bridge was contaminated.

Michael Globetti, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the test results are expected Monday.

Thomas's father, who founded the materials handling company that allowed his son to store the dirt on property it leased, said his son makes sure the soil is not polluted.

"People do excavations and can't get rid of the dirt, and they bring it to Jimmy," the elder Thomas said Sunday. "If it's dirty, he won't take it. It's got to be clean.

State officials are trying to determine whether any permits were required to store the dirt next to the bridge. Globetti said stormwater and sediment regulations require permits for ground-disturbing activity of 5,000 square feet or greater.

State transportation secretary Shailen Bhatt said his agency did not know of the dirt mound until Monday, when engineers visited the bridge in response to a report received late last week of a possible problem. That report came from an engineer with a private company who was in the area on an unrelated project and saw cracking in the soil around the dirt pile on the east side of the bridge -- the direction in which the columns are tilting. The engineer then spotted the leaning columns and contacted DelDOT.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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