"Sinkholes" have always been a problem in the reclaimed swampland of Florida. Now they're opening up in places like Portland, where one swallowed a sewer-repair truck, Brooklyn, N.Y., where firefighters rescued a grandmother who fell into a hole that opened up as she walked down the sidewalk with her groceries and an SUV plunged nose-first into the abyss, and in Hershey, Pa., where a 6-foot-deep hole nearly caused the cancellation of the local New Year's Eve celebration. An 11-foot-deep one is dominating the intersection of Cherry and Franklin Streets in Palmyra, Pa., as I write.
These all were entirely preventable. They happen when century-old sewage pipes and mains spring leaks and erode. The ground above them collapses.
It used to be that when a new national problem became impossible to ignore, the federal government galvanized resources to fix it. But there isn't even a nationwide tally of how many sinkholes there are. The Environmental Protection Agency has projected that half the water pipes in the nation will be in either poor, very poor, or "life elapsed" status within 13 years. The EPA has sprung to the rescue this way - by telling municipalities to spend more money, like it's not a national problem at all. Like Howard Dean said in 2004: that means they'll have to raise taxes.
But conservatives keep telling us: Taxes are evil.
You know what's more evil? Last summer, in a suburb near Dallas, a 2-year-old boy, Elian Majano, disappeared. A bloodhound traced his scent to a sinkhole in a public park caused by a broken sewage pipeline.
The American Society of Civil Engineers tells us the situation hasn't been healthy for some decades; their first "Report Card for America's Infrastructure" gave wastewater pipes a "C." That was 1988. Now that George Bush's tax cuts have been added to Reagan's, their latest grade is "D-minus." You would think a great nation would be able to afford, you know, to keep children from drowning in crap. It would cost, the civil engineers tell us, about $390 billion.
These are the basics, people. When your government can't handle the basics, you are a third world country.