Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

As officials look for answers about Holiday sinkholes, residents' worries grow

HOLIDAY — Worried residents of the Holiday Travel Park eyed two ragged sinkholes from behind caution tape Wednesday, with little to do but hope their property is spared.

"I just can't stand it. I can't go look at that hole," said Clifford Denver, 80, whose mobile home rests about 30 feet from the sinkholes. "I know if it goes five more feet that way I'm done. To me, it's like waiting for the execution in jail."

While geologists examine the holes, the county has halted nearby construction work on a sewer lift station, which included pumping out groundwater.

In the meantime, six homes have been evacuated, including Denver's.

The anxiety is gnawing at him.

"You don't know if you're going to lose (your home) or not lose it, you don't know if they're just going to clamp up on your doors," he said. "Everything I own is in there."

The first hole opened in a driveway Monday, swallowing a Hyundai sedan. It has since grown to 25 feet in diameter, and the home at the site has been condemned.

On Tuesday, a second hole opened just feet from the first at the edge of a neighboring yard on Torch Street. A third soft spot near the first hole is being monitored. The holes are on private property, according to the county.

Initially called depressions or subsurface anomalies, hydrogeologist Sandy Nettles of N.S. Nettles & Associates said Wednesday that there is no doubt: the small chasms are sinkholes.

"Historical aerials show the property sits on top of two large fractures in the limestone that intersect right at those sinkholes," said Nettles, who examined the area.

Nettles said records show the land used to be part of wetlands. Those wetlands, he said, were likely created by sinkholes and later covered by development.

"They can be stable for hundreds of years, and sometimes once they start moving, you get more action," Nettles said.

It is still unclear what exactly triggered the holes. Nettles said he will review data from recent rainstorms and look for other possible causes. Because the county's work altered the water table in the area, Nettles said, it could have been a catalyst.

That theory is the favored one of property manager Larry Pickering. "It just seems like if you draw a lot of water out of one spot, one area, something's going to happen," he said.

The county initially said there was no indication that the work was tied to the holes, but Pasco spokesman Doug Tobin announced late Tuesday that work in the area has stopped until geologists determine the cause of the depressions.

"It's not our intention to create problems like this. I don't know that we've created the problem — that's for the experts to sort out," said Bruce Kennedy, the assistant county administrator for utilities.

On Wednesday, Kennedy said builders "need to get back on schedule" with the multimillion-dollar sanitation project because there are "cost consequences" that come with delays.

Kennedy said the construction crews working on the sewer system likely did some shallow ground tests before they began, but sinkholes are a fact of life in a state built on limestone that is susceptible to cracking.

"It's unfortunate that we live in a sinkhole-prone world here in Florida," he said.

An Allstate insurance agent visited the site Wednesday, working with the mobile home park to devise a plan for removing the car from the sinkhole and, eventually, filling the holes in.

Several residents said they will wait it out.

"Where are we going to go? Most of us don't have two nickels to rub together," said Dave Amundson, 76, watering his plants on his porch about 200 feet from the sinkhole. "We don't need this kind of commotion at this age. This is on our shoulders, and we don't need it."

Insurance will likely be a problem for some of the home­owners. Two of the evacuated households don't have homeowners insurance, Pickering said. Many have no financial protection from sinkholes. For now, some of the evacuees are staying at a nearby Fairfield Inn, with the park's owners picking up the tab.

"Of course we're all concerned," said Meryl Parkton, 65, who lives about a block away from the holes with her 12 cats. "Whoever expects that kind of stuff? You think: not in my lifetime."

Laura Meldrum, 66, whose porch overlooks the sinkhole zone, has also been evacuated.

"I'm just hoping and praying ours isn't going to go down in the hole," she said. "We have no control over anything."

Wednesday afternoon, Denver smoked a cigar on his porch. He gestured toward his door and said he's technically allowed to enter, but at his own peril.

When first alerted to the sinkholes, he said, he had little time to pack. He grabbed a couple of changes of clothes and some valuables and got out. His electricity has been cut.

He was debating Wednesday whether to dash inside to grab a treasured photo or two. He wants to remember his travels. He wants to make sure the sole photograph he has of his mother is safe.

"Those are my memories," he said.

Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613.

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