DADE CITY — Nearly 21 months after the first traces of holes appeared along Willow Brook Court in the Lakeside Woodlands neighborhood of Hudson, the nightmare continues for residents.
For those who live in the six houses along the roadway closed permanently after the depressions formed, there is no access to their homes for vehicles. They are forced to use carts and wheel barrows to bring home groceries and to drag their garbage cans down the road for trash day in all kinds of weather. Home improvements don’t happen because providers cannot get to them.
The depressions and ground shifting are traced to underground caves running beneath that portion of Hudson.
County emergency management officials have researched for months ways that they might be able to buy the homes. All the grant opportunities they have explored have ended in denial. Last month, they met with residents again and on Tuesday (May 4), County Commissioner Jack Mariano proposed that it is time for the county to consider buying out the most effected parcels.
Commissioners got a detailed picture of what life has been like there from a stack of emails from residents.
“I constantly hear noises coming from under my house and I fear my house could collapse at any time,” wrote resident Gina Love. A Pasco school teacher who lives across the street from the largest depression, Love has sent her son to live with his grandparents during the weekdays to keep him safe.
“This is not only taking an emotional toll on me but on my son,” Love said. “We need to be together.”
Several doors down, Mary Sessa explained that she lost her husband several months ago and lives within site of the barrier. She deals with delivery vehicles turning around in her driveway and knocking into her mailbox, watching her disabled neighbors struggle with groceries and knowing that emergency service providers are hampered from a quick response by the closed road.
“I live by myself and with anxiety every day wondering if my house is safe,” she said. “I just want to feel safe again.”
In Barbara Geren’s home, “we continue to notices changes” such as the garage ceiling collapsing, gutters falling away from the house, tiles shifting in the fireplace and “every day we hear noises and live in constant fear of what will happen next.”
For Tom and Mary Jean Murray, there is no putting a new roof onto their home to satisfy insurance needs because the contractors cannot get close enough with their equipment to do the work. Neither can contractors who could replace insulation or air conditioning units. When Tom Murray needed an ambulance recently, it was hampered by the neighbors cars parked at the barricades.
“With all due respect,,” the Murrays wrote to commissioners, “we need your help.”
After trying for grants related to storms and other hazard mitigation and community development resources, county staff reported that they have had no luck finding money that would bail out the most-effected houses. While in August 2019, officials identified 36 depressions formed beneath the road and around homes, changes continue to happen.
In a memo May 3 to commissioners from Andrew Fossa, Pasco’s emergency management director, he said, “geologic activity continues to persist in the area” and he included photos “highlighting that geologic activity continues to create surface openings.”
While the geological event has affected 13 homes along the street, seven home owners have expressed interest in having their homes acquired. Six of those homes are along the stretch of roadway that is closed.
After Mariano spoke to the neighbors, who are in his commission district, he suggested taking a look at a reduced scope of assistance, focusing on the seven homes where the owners were interested in having the county acquire their property. The cost estimate by staff is $1,1 million to pay the just value of the homes and another $266,000 for demolition for a total project cost estimated just under $1,4 million.
If all 13 of the affected properties were acquired and demolished, that cost would rise to just under $2.6 million.
According to Fossa’s memo, county officials “will continue meeting with state and federal agencies to see if other options are available and advocate for new sinkhole specific state programs.”
Mariano told the commission that it would be bad if something were to happen to the homes in the neighborhood. “It falls on our backs,” he said, saying he was anxious to see action before the hurricane season begins.
County administrator Dan Biles asked for enough time for county departments and the county attorney to get with emergency management to begin to work through any details before bringing the issue back to the commission. They tentatively identified a June meeting for continuing the discussion.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she knows officials are talking about creative financing possibly even related to ground movement and funds related to earthquake threats that might be tapped. Like Mariano, she said she hoped a solution can be found. “The citizens shouldn’t be left hanging like this,” she said.