Sinkhole solution down to three options

Pasco County is inching closer to resolving the massive sinkhole that swallowed two houses in Lake Padgett Estates more than eight months ago.

Public Safety officials and county engineers are down to three recommendations on the long-term recovery efforts at the sinkhole site on Ocean Pines Drive:

  • Option No. 1: Install a 6-foot tall “wrought-iron style” decorative fence and access gate around the sinkhole with dead-end signs, at an estimated cost of $65,000
  • Option No. 2: Build the same fence around the sinkhole, with two, 70-foot “hammerhead” turn-arounds, at an estimated cost of $242,000
  • Option No. 3: Build the same fence around the sinkhole with a cul-de-sac on each side, at an estimated cost ranging from $1.7 million to $2.2 million

The sinkhole opened on July 14, 2017, at 21825 Ocean Pines Drive. It eventually swallowed two houses, a motorcycle and a boat in the Lake Padgett Estates community in Land O’ Lakes. (File)

Kevin Guthrie, the county’s assistant administrator for public safety, outlined those possibilities with homeowners at a March 10 community meeting at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park.

Based on conceptual designs, the county would need to purchase three houses to install a cul-de-sac. That option also would likely require renaming a portion of Ocean Pines Drive.

For a turn-around option, no additional homeowners would be displaced. The county would need to purchase only the area needed for the turn-arounds from homeowners, not their entire properties.

Officials said the main purpose for those two options is to ease access for garbage trucks and emergency vehicles, which presently are forced to drive backwards to exit Ocean Pines Drive.

If the county installs just fencing and landscaping — the cheapest option — Ocean Pines would remain closed off at the site of the sinkhole.

Previously discussed options — such as connecting the sinkhole to Lake Saxon or rebuilding the roadway with sheet piles driven underground — have since been deemed too risky by the county’s geotechnical consultant, Intertek-PSI.

At the meeting, residents were encouraged to provide feedback and jot down comments to be considered by the Pasco County Commission.

Residents take a look at conceptual designs of the Pasco County’s long-term recovery efforts at the sinkhole site. (Kevin Weiss)

Various concerns were raised, from the county’s mitigation costs to how it intends to fund whichever solution is chosen.

The county already has spent more than $1 million for initial cleanup and stabilization of the sinkhole site.

Guthrie said it hasn’t been determined how the county will pay for whichever option, though use of public funds may be a possibility.

Some residents questioned why a fence even needs to be installed at the sinkhole site.

Guthrie stressed that’s a matter of public safety as open waterways touched or owned by the county must be cordoned off.

He guaranteed permanent fencing, at the very least, will be installed due to potential liability issues for the county.

“You can take this to the bank: The county commission, 5-0, is going to put a fence around that,” he said.

Guthrie noted the county is currently in litigation with two homeowners and their insurance companies who haven’t taken responsibility for cleanup and securing the areas of private property affected by the sinkhole — an issue that may not be resolved for “probably decades.”

“If they’re not going to take responsibility, the county has to step in. And, we have to ensure the safety for the citizens,” Guthrie said.

The sinkhole opened on July 14, 2017, at 21825 Ocean Pines Drive. It eventually swallowed two houses, a motorcycle and a boat.

Seven additional homes nearby were also condemned as unsafe, based on subsurface conditions and other geologic anomalies.

Displaced homeowner Dottie Benschoter was among about 30 people attending one of the two community meetings.

The 78-year old and her husband had lived at their Ocean Pines Drive home for more than 40 years — before it was condemned in July.

The massive sinkhole was a shock for her family and fellow neighbors, forcing them to uproot their lives.

“Especially at our age, we never dreamed anything like this would happen,” she said.

“It’s affected my neighbors. We’re all affected mentally, because one day you’re living your life, and one day it changed completely. We had to move everything in one day,” Benschoter said.

She continued: “(The county’s) trying their best, but we still don’t have any answers. They still haven’t made their decision with what they’re doing. They said we have to demolish our homes and pay for it ourselves.”

Guthrie called the entire sinkhole situation “really upsetting and frustrating.”

He added: “I know the homeowners are frustrated but at the same time, we have remediated this hole to the point that we can.”

Guthrie and his staff will present their findings to commissioners at their March 27 or April 11 meeting, at which time a final decision is expected.

Published March 21, 2018

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