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Sinkholes remain West Pasco ‘fact of life,’ geologist tells CONA

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Published:   |   Updated: March 26, 2013 at 01:36 PM
NEW PORT RICHEY -

The recent death of Jeff Bush from a sinkhole under his Seffner home prompted the Council of Neighborhood Association leaders here to convene a forum last week for advice from experts about safeguarding homes.

Bush was sleeping in his bedroom when the sinkhole swallowed him. His body was never recovered.

The limestone bedrock under Florida “looks like Swiss cheese sometimes,” Drew Glasbrenner told CONA audience.

A professional geologist with Bracken Engineering, in Tampa, Glasbrenner said underground cavities and caverns can collapse from contractions and expansions. The dry season seems the busiest time for sinkholes. Extreme flooding from Tropical Storm Debby last June did cause sinkholes as well, but Debby was a 500-year event.

A New Port Richey native, Glasbrenner said his hobby is cave diving. He has explored much of the underground cavern that stretches some 4,000 feet under much of the Beacon Woods community in Hudson.

The risk for catastrophic ground collapse seems less pronounced in the Gulf Harbors area, where the CONA meeting took place. Glasbrenner said he had conducted only two projects in Gulf Harbors the past 16 years.

The sinkhole risk has been exaggerated by effects from overpumping water from underground aquifers along the coast, Glasbrenner responded to another question.

“Sinkholes aren’t going to go away,” Jim Collier, president of Lakeland-based Certified Foundations Inc., said. “They’re a fact of life.”

Experts also responded to questions about pitfalls of finding reputable firms for testing or repairs.

“Underpinning (of a house) does not fix a sinkhole,” Collier stressed. Underpinning might stabilize a home, but it does not repair the sinkhole.

“Please don’t fall for the ‘all inspections are free’ promotions” from less reliable firms, Collier said. “I hate it when people get the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Some contractors might have switched to fixing sinkholes only in the past few years, but count decades of experience in other specialties, Collier noted.

Residents should look for a Florida licensed contractor with specialization in ground stabilization and sinkhole repair. Some firms are a one-man operation, Collier advised. A contractor should provide proof of insurance for all crew members. A proven track record is another good sign. Membership in Florida Association of Sinkhole Stabilization Specialists and Better Business Bureau provides other clues.

A state law that went into effect in 2011 attempted to clarify definitions of sinkholes and structural damage, the experts explained. The changes also affect insurance coverage.

After an insurance claim is filed, expenses can amount to about $10,000 for tests. Insurers might ask a resident to foot perhaps $2,500 of the total bill, refundable if a sinkhole is determined.

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