LAND O'LAKES — Sinkhole cleanup efforts at Lake Padgett Estates were temporarily halted Friday after a large chunk of the void's edge collapsed overnight.
Contractors are adding soil to stabilize the hole's banks so workers can resume removing debris, said Pasco County spokesman Doug Tobin.
The massive sinkhole opened up on July 14, destroyed two homes and led authorities to quickly evacuate another 11 residences. Five families are still displaced: Two who were renting the homes that were lost, and three others who still have not yet been allowed to return home.
The section that crumbled was 10 feet wide by 80 feet long, and sat on the west side of the sinkhole. Given the intensive nature of the work being done there, Tobin said, some destabilization of the rim was expected.
"Safety at the scene is a top priority of this operation and work could stop at any time," Tobin said.
The land surrounding the sinkhole will be tested with ground-penetrating radar to make sure the perimeter can withstand the weight of the equipment that workers will be using.
Officials could not say Friday when work would resume, saying the situation was being evaluated hour-by-hour. But when it does continue, the cleanup is expected to take two to four weeks — a time frame dependent on weather and how well the sinkhole's edge holds up.
Earlier this week, the Pasco County Commission awarded a $640,000 contract for debris removal to Ceres Environmental Services, a national company. Contractors brought their equipment to the site on Wednesday. And on Thursday, Ceres plucked some debris from the hole's surface and conducted geological testing from small boats, said county spokewoman Tambrey Laine.
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In all, $1.3 million was approved for the first phase of the cleanup. The larger sum accounts for money already spent on the sinkhole — including personnel costs for county staffers and off-duty deputies — and an estimated $300,000 to fill in and stabilize the hole's shore, $237,000 in contingencies and $30,000 for water hauling.
The clean-up money will come out of the county's insurance fund.
In addition to securing the hole's edges, crews planned Friday to funnel dirt into the hole, Laine said, which will raise the water level and make it easier for workers to remove debris.
Contractors also expect to demolish what's left of the house at 21825 Ocean Pines Drive within the next few days, according to the county. The home next to it at 21835 Ocean Pines was completely destroyed when the hole rapidly developed in the early morning of July 14.
The county may fill the 235-foot-wide hole once cleanup is complete. That would take an estimated 135,000 cubic yards of dirt, or enough to fill more than 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The county commission would approve those funds separately.
Contact Laura Newberry at [email protected] Follow @LauraMNewberry.