By Kendal Groner
Zachary Morrison had just gotten off of the night shift at Nuclear Fuel Services and soon discovered a busted service line at his residence. It turned out that his property, located at 126 Buffalo Ridge Drive, had a massive sinkhole in the front yard.
“The service line started spraying water, and that’s what had caught my attention,” Morrison said.
He said the sinkhole was initially discovered three or four weeks ago, but progressively got worse with recent rain. After Town of Unicoi officials were notified on March 6 that the sinkhole had fully collapsed, the Unicoi County Highway Department came out to repair the sinkhole.
“This area is prone to sinkholes because it’s on Limestone rock,” said Terry Haynes, Unicoi County road superintendent. “You just don’t know where they’re at … we have them on the south end of the county too, we’ve got two or three out there. We’ve been very, very lucky that kids have not fallen in these things.”
Morrison moved to the golf course property four years ago with his wife and three young children. He said had he known about the sinkhole issue beforehand, he would’ve reconsidered purchasing the property.
“My wife is adamant about putting it up for sale,” he said. “But with the golf course closure and now this sinkhole, there’s no telling how much this has hurt my property value.”
Because not all sinkholes provide surface expressions before opening up, determining where they are located can be a difficult endeavor.
“We have no way of knowing where they all are, these things just started coming up in the last five or six years because there is a lot of building going on … a lot of drilling, shooting, and vibration,” Haynes said. “There’s several things that could be causing them to open up.”
There have been a total of three sinkholes open up in the general vicinity near Morrison’s property. Haynes said one of the sinkholes cost approximately $80,000 to fix, and the other was repaired by the homeowner.
“A guy dropped a cinder block in there and it just kept on going,” Haynes said. “We didn’t fix that one though, the landowners handled it.”
A total of 6,000 gallons of water was poured into the sinkhole on Morrison’s property, all of which was absorbed in less than a minute and a half.
“We had no idea what we were dealing with until we saw a hole there,” Morrison said. “I’m worried that eventually it’s just going to open up somewhere else.”
Morrison discovered the water from the sinkhole was letting out about a quarter mile downhill into a creek running through the Buffalo Valley Golf Course that feeds into a large pond.
Haynes estimated it would take $60,000 to fix Morrison’s sinkhole. The repair process involved filling in the hole with large stones and applying a layer of petromat. Petromat is a non-woven fabric of polypropylene fibers that acts as a water impervious barrier.
After the petromat and stones were put in the sinkhole, 50 yards of cement was poured into the hole up to the service line pipe, all in all around a 10 hour process.
With four other neighboring lots for sale, Haynes said the issue of an increasing number of sinkholes is something the Town of Unicoi Planning Commission may wish to address.
“This is a liability the city is going to have to eat,” Haynes said. “If somebody comes out and they see a hole in the yard, please don’t just stomp it. Because you have no idea where you’re going to wind up, you could end up a quarter of a mile underground … it’s dangerous.”