In Citrus, sinkholes a constant possibility

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Sinkhole fatality raises awareness of problematic environmental threat

By Pat Faherty

The recent sinkhole tragedy near Tampa put a spotlight on this natural phenomenon, especially in the 10 Florida counties, including Citrus, where sinkholes are most prevalent.

It has raised public awareness, the lack of which has been a problem, according to one sinkhole expert.

A 2008 map based on data gathered by the Florida Geological Survey shows 333 reported sinkhole events peppering Citrus County. Most are small, on the west side of the county tracking U.S. 19. The identified possible sinkholes date back to the 1970s.

But according to the Department of Environmental Protection, no part of the state is considered safe from sinkholes, which have been a contentious issue when it comes to home insurance.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation reported 443 sinkhole damage claims on residential property were filed in Citrus County from 2006 to 2010. Sinkholes have also left their stamp on undeveloped areas, providing noticeable terrain features.

During the past 10 years, damage caused by sinkholes in Citrus County has claimed a car, damaged houses and commercial buildings and shut down roads.

Shortly after the Feb. 28 sinkhole incident in Seffner, which claimed a man’s life, the term “sinkhole season” was publicized. However, Anthony F. Randazzo, professor emeritus of geological sciences at the University of Florida, said it is more related to weather conditions than time of year.

“I would not put a time of year on it,” he said, citing the fall hurricane and tropical storm seasons, which bring out sinkholes as well.

“Sinkholes are not site-specific,” he said, “We have a very good idea of where they are likely to occur.” He said there are three sinkhole belts in the state, but there would have to be specific testing for individual parcels.

As for whether there is enough public awareness regarding sinkholes, “that is the real issue,” Randazzo said. “There is not much public awareness.”

People can have property tested to determine problems.

“These are things real estate salesmen, builders and developers won’t tell you,” he said. “Most important, this is something banks are not even clued in on.”

He said lenders will require you to test for insect infestation and structural soundness and not even consider sinkholes.

Concerns about possible sinkholes usually end up with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Since March 1, district well construction manager Dave Arnold reports receiving a dozen inquiries.

“When I receive phone calls or emails from the public requesting reported sinkhole data, I refer them to the Florida Geological Survey, which is the most complete data warehouse of sinkholes (subsidence incidents) in the state,” he said.

If someone calls to report an apparent sinkhole, he will ask them if it is affecting a structure at their property. If so, they are told to contact their homeowner’s insurance company and vacate their house if they feel the house is unstable.

If the reported sinkhole is on private property away from any structure and underground utilities, he will recommend the owner quarantine the area around the sinkhole to prevent someone from falling into it.

He also provides information on filling a sinkhole and how to report one on public property.

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.

More about sinkholes
2008 map of known Citrus County sinkholes:

For DEP sinkhole information: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/geologictopics/sinkhole.htm

Citrus sinkholes in the news
* March 2013 — County crews work to fill small sinkhole on Rock Crusher Road.
* August 2011 — Evidence of previous sinkholes found during site preparation for the new Walmart in Homosassa.
* August 2009 — An apparent sinkhole damaged a home near the Seven Rivers Golf and Country Club.
* April 2009 — Southwest Florida Water Management District fills a sinkhole blamed for draining Morrison Pond in Inverness.
* June 2008 — Suncoast Parkway 2 opponents claimed the project would results in an abundance of sinkholes.
* August 2007 — Sinkhole opens up near the intersection of State Road 44 and County Road 486, under five storage units.
* July 2007 — Sinkholes found during Progress Energy power plant access road project. September 2006 — Well-digger set off an eruption of sinkholes at a home off Melanie Drive in Homosassa.
* April 2006 — Sinkhole about 50 feet wide swallowed up the backyard of a home off Campbell Point in Crystal River.
* December 2004 — Sinkhole closes a lane of State Road 44, east of the intersection of County Road 486 and S.R. 44.
* February 2003 — Sinkhole opened up at a gas station at the intersection of U.S. 41 and County Road 39, claiming a car as driver and passenger escape.