Vibration created during Monday's seismic mapping exercise by Texas-based Tidelands Geophysical Company (TGC) could be a prime suspect in a damaged files case at Marietta's Municipal Court.
"The court files were being held in a basement room while we looked for a long-term storage area in town," Judge Janet-Dyar Welch explained.
She said Monday morning's court session was under way when the proceedings were suddenly interrupted by a jolt.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Soiled file boxes are shown on the floor of a basement room at Marietta’s new Municipal Court building Tuesday afternoon.
"I was sitting at the bench, and the entire building shook," Welch said.
Outside on Third Street a series of five TGC "vibroseis" trucks were moving along the roadway, stopping at regular intervals to lower large vibrating metal disks from each truck onto the road surface.
Seismic vibrations from the disks are recorded and used to develop 2- and 3-dimensional "maps" showing rocks and other structures that lie beneath the surface of the earth.
The seismic issue
"Vibroseis" vehicles from Tidelands Geophysical Company (TGC) of Plano, Texas, traveled along Third Street in Marietta Monday, conducting seismic mapping that helps determine the location of oil and gas-bearing shale beds beneath the surface of the earth.
Vibrations created during the process may have caused damage to a sewage system cleanout pipe and files stored at the Marietta Municipal Court Building on the corner of Third and Butler streets.
Source: Times research.
The mapping is part of an exploration process designed to locate Ohio's gas- and oil-bearing shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface.
Welch said the vibrations were stronger than those caused by an earthquake that shook the Marietta area last year.
"I was on the bench at that time, too, and these vibrations were much more pronounced," she said.
Later that day leaks began developing in plumbing in some of the court's second-floor restrooms.
On Tuesday a summer intern with the court went to look for a file in the temporary basement storage room and discovered stacks of the court files had fallen over.
In addition, there was sewage all over the floor.
On Wednesday Eric Lambert with the city engineering office explained that a sewer line cleanout cap had broken in the basement room.
The break allowed sewage flushed from the second-floor bathrooms to spill out onto the floor. File boxes on the floor also absorbed some of the sewage.
"We're still trying to figure out the exact cause of the break-it hasn't been determined at this time," Lambert said. "But it apparently happened about the time the seismic company was passing through, so there's some evidence it may be related. Our investigation is not to the point where I could definitely say that's what happened."
He said TGC has been contacted and asked to provide some data on their work in the area of the municipal court on Monday.
"They said this kind of situation is uncommon, but they understand and are on board to help us make things right," Lambert said. "And we're trying to determine exactly what happened. Was this break something that would have happened anyway and the vibrations just pushed it over the edge?"
City engineer Joe Tucker said he had seen photographs of the damage at the municipal court, and has heard from others who said the seismic vibrations were stronger than anticipated.
He said one call came from Washington Street resident Barbara Stewart, who cut her foot on a coffee cup that vibrated off a table at her home during Monday's seismic mapping.
Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 in Marietta also received several calls related to the seismic vibrations, Tucker said.
"We issued a permit for TGC to work in the city right of way, but the way it was described there would be nothing more than a minor vibration," he said. "But I think this was something quite different from what we were told."
Tucker said he wasn't in his office when the seismic vibrations were conducted Monday, but members of his staff who work in that building at 304 Putnam St. said they felt strong vibrations.
And that building is located half a block west of Third Street, where the seismic testing was going on.
"We're trying to identify the repercussions to the court building, and I have a feeling we'll need additional information from TGC to determine what happened," Tucker said. "We want to quantify exactly where their equipment was, and how close to the court building when the damage occurred."
Welch said the plumbing contractor responded quickly and the cleanout and pipes have been repaired.
She also had the basement room immediately cleaned and disinfected with bleach after the damage was discovered.
"My first concern was to take care of the potential public health crisis," Welch said. "We didn't lose any files, but we're going to have to figure out a way to restore those that have been damaged."
The hundreds of boxes of files had been temporarily moved to the new court from several other city locations, including the court's former location at Marietta City Hall, and from buildings at 304 and 308 Putnam Street as well as other sites.
Court administrator Jason Hamilton said the court is working to eventually get all files digitized, but is still required by state law to maintain some case files for up to 50 years.