of The Villages News
By Larry D. Croom
Published September , 2018
A hole that opened up Wednesday on a road in the Evans
Prairie area of The Villages had worried residents fearing another round of
sinkhole issues in The Villages.
A Sumter County official contends that’s not the case at all.
This marks the second time in less than a week – the other
occurred this past weekend in the Village of Winifred – that Villagers
have been forced to deal with what they believe are sinkholes but
apparently are connected to issues with underground stormwater pipes.
On Thursday, a Sumter County engineering truck was parked on Evans
Prairie Trail near the new hole in the pavement. It’s located a short
distance from the intersection of Kananwood Terrace and was causing a
Neighbors living near the hole told Villages-News.com that that a puddle
was present Wednesday when it began to open. They said that in the wake
of Hurricane Irma, a sinkhole had opened near the drainage pipe and they
believed the new hole is in the same area.
But Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold said Thursday that the
hole actually was caused by a failure in the underground stormwater
pipe. He said the county is in the process of determining its next step
for repairs and hopes to have the work completed by next Friday.
Arnold said via email that the Evans Prairie Trail pipe had been
repaired in the past by compacting lime rock over it. But other steps
will now have to be taken after the area has experienced heavy rainfall,
This hole on Evans Prairie Trail, near the intersection
of Kananwood Terrace, was causing traffic blockage Thursday.
“It is apparent that we will need to do more extensive
investigation of this pipe and determine if we can repair it from within the
pipe or replace it altogether,” he said, adding that he is gathering pricing for
both alternatives as crews continue their inspections.
Arnold also sent Villages-News.com a series of photos taken Thursday afternoon
inside the pipe that clearly show where it has been compromised below the hole
in the roadway. He said the county regularly schedules cleaning, inspection and
repairs to stormwater pipes in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown in an effort to
“prevent surprises” on the infrastructure that originally was built by The
Villages and later turned over to the county to maintain.
“This was a management plan we started five years ago and are
progressing ultimately to (State Road) 44 before turning to our
regionally significant roads,” Arnold said.
Meanwhile, Arnold said the county has “no alternative” but to replace
the pipe that caused the problem in the Village of Winifred. Two large
holes and a sunken area that appears ready to open remain in the front
of yard of a Designer home at 733 Winifred Way that is owned by Carol
Those holes opened up shortly after a large-scale cleaning of the storm
drains in the neighborhood and had neighbors concerned this past weekend
as construction barricades and cones covered a large portion of Thomas’
yard and Winifred Way, forcing traffic to use one lane in the area.
The largest hole in Thomas’ yard sits on the north side of her property
and runs well underneath her damaged driveway. It appears to be about
four feet deep and a large area of grass-covered ground can be seen down
inside the hole.
The second hole, which is smaller in diameter, is about 15 to 20 feet
away on the south side of the property, bordering Thomas’ neighbor’s
yard. The sunken area of ground sits just a couple of feet away from
that depression and appears as if it would connect the two if it opened
Yellow crime scene tape blocked access to the sinkhole at
the storm drain on McLawren Terrace in the Village of Calumet Grove.
A nearby neighbor who didn’t want to be identified Sunday
confirmed that the holes opened up shortly after the neighborhood’s storm drains
were cleared. He said many residents are confused about the issue and added that
he’s concerned about his property but thankful it hasn’t yet been affected.
These latest holes that clearly have rattled Villagers’ nerves are among many
that have been reported in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown over the past several
years. This past Tuesday, Villages of Alhambra residents had the opportunity to
learn more about a sinkhole-drained pond that has angered many homeowners. Those
residents packed the Aug. 10 Community Development District 2 Board of
Supervisors meeting to express their unhappiness with the condition of the pond.
Ironically, the Property Owners’ Association also held a presentation Tuesday on
sinkhole risk and financial involvement. It was an encore performance of a
highly popular program offered in July, when people had to be turned away
because the room was at capacity.
Last month, a small hole that looks almost identical to the one on Evans Prairie
Trail opened up at the corner of County Road 466 and County Road 101 – just a
few feet away from a storm drain. That hole, which was located at the corner of
the intersection in the northbound lane of CR 101, forced officials to close a
portion of the roadway at the entrance to the Village of Summerhill, just west
of the Southern Trace Plaza and across from The Villages High School.
But none of the recent activity compares with what has taken place in the
Village of Calumet Grove. In the early morning hours of Feb. 15, large sinkholes
opened up on McLawren Terrace and forced residents from their homes. They
reported hearing loud bangs along the path or near an underground storm drain
pipe as the holes were opening – one of which was at least 35 feet deep directly
outside the doorway to one homeowner’s lanai.
Villagers Doris Morrill and her neighbors, Frank and Jan Neumann, were forced to
leave their homes that morning and find alternate living arrangements. And the
problem was made even worse in May when four more sinkholes opened up on the
same properties and in the roadway in front of the damaged homes.
Engineering experts – two geotechnical and one structural – have agreed that
Morrill’s home, located at 17092 McLawren Terrace, isn’t repairable and they
have recommended it be condemned and torn down. But Morrill reportedly is trying
to sell the home and the situation became even more complicated when it was
revealed that she is a “tenant for life” in the house, as her late husband’s
children were his heirs.
In July, Marion County Code Enforcement opened a case regarding Morrill’s home.
Officials from the county’s Building Safety Department inspected the structure,
deemed it unsafe and requested code enforcement officials to open the case per
the Marion County Code of Ordinances, article five, section 82.
Should Morrill’s house sell, the new owner would be responsible for stabilizing
the property. However, the Marion County code case would be restarted and the
90-day clock would start all over again.
The Neumanns also have extensive damage and are going through the legal process
to determine how and if they are going to be able to repair their home and stay
in The Villages. But they really can’t do much until something happens with
Morrill’s home so the District can assess the controversial storm drain pipe –
it has created mass suspicion among residents since the sinkholes opened up –
that runs between the two homes and make any needed repairs. But that process
can’t start until the unstable soil on Morrill’s property is shored up and
deemed safe for crews to begin working.
Meanwhile, frazzled Calumet Grove neighbors residents have expressed
frustrations and are worried about their property values plummeting as the
sinkhole drama drags on. And Community Development District 4 has been forced to
absorb the mounting costs of the problem – Villages sinkholes drew the attention
of Smithsonian Magazine in May – which as of Aug. 10 was at a staggering
$560,000. Those costs clearly are expected to increase, which largely led
supervisors to approve a preliminary budget that includes a 20 percent hike in
the maintenance assessment paid by residents.
Unlike some Districts in The Villages, CDD 4 is not part of the Project Wide
Advisory Committee. So while it doesn’t have to contribute to PWAC’s budget, CDD
4 also won’t see any kind of relief in paying for the expensive infrastructure
costs associated with the sinkhole damage.