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The Nose

Cathedral Font

Posted 8/21/2002

It was the sound the Nose noticed first--a strange noise, a dimly recalled sibilance from an earlier age. It was the sound of cars splashing through water. Cars splashing through water in the middle of a horrendous drought. We were hoofing our way to the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Central Branch last week when we discovered that a good chunk of the sloping 600 block of Cathedral Street resembled a water slide. Sheets of water rippled down the street and puddled at the intersection with Centre Street. Cool, clear--precious--water. We followed the stream upward, to a small alley just off the southeast corner of the Clarion Hotel, where it gurgled up from between pavement cracks like some sort of primal spring.The city enacted mandatory water restrictions Aug. 10--in these bone-dry days a restaurant can be fined $100 just for serving a customer a glass of water if it's not specifically requested. So why is Cathedral allowed to be a waterfall? We first asked Chris Wills, front-desk manager for the Clarion, about the wetness, and he said the hotel had called the city about the problem more than two weeks ago--and still it flowed. We then rang up the city's Department of Public Works. The department's chief of utility maintenance, Warren Williams, told us they had been contacted about the errant H2O "about a week ago" and concluded it wasn't a city problem. "We traced it back to being an inside job--a problem inside the hotel," he said. "It's not coming from our lines." Our next call was to Clarion general manager Jason Curtis, who didn't buy Williams' theory.

"Our water meters are not saying we are using any additional water," Curtis said. "If it was a break in our line, they'd be going berserk." He added that the hotel's basement is dry and the water pressure just fine.

Over the weekend, the water continued to flow, seemingly unabated. On Monday, the Nose contacted the DPW again to find out what, if anything, had been done to plug the dam. According to department spokesperson Kurt Kocher, the city met with the hotel's management about the problem.

"The hotel owner was having somebody come in to evaluate what was wrong," he said. According to Kocher, the leaking water is an internal problem at the hotel and could be due to something as simple as a faulty air-conditioning unit. "It's not something leaking due to a city problem," he concluded. The Nose thought that excessive amounts of water flowing from an unknown source during a severe drought would, technically, become a city problem. But Kocher says he doesn't know whether or not the problem has been discovered or the leak stemmed.

The Nose could not reach the Curtis on Monday for further comment on the matter.

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