Sumter County blames holes in Villages neighborhoods on failed stormwater pipes

Article Courtesy 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 traffic blockage.

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, he said.

 

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 Thomas.

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 up.

 

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.

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