DUNEDIN — Demolition began this morning of two homes damaged Thursday by a massive sinkhole that opened up on Robmar Road.
Crews working with a giant backhoe began demolishing the home at 1112 Robmar Road about 9 a.m. That home, where the sinkhole was discovered, will be leveled by the end of the day, along with the house next door, at 1100 Robmar Road.
The house at 1112 Robmar Road is already half-demolished, and firefighters have started picking through the debris left behind.
Before the demolition started, firefighters took out lawn maintenance equipment and other items from the home’s garage. A few minutes ago, a firefighter working with a safety line connected to a nearby telephone pole recovered an American flag that had been flying from the home, as well as a couple of stacks of books. Crews are already starting to load debris into a big dump truck brought in to haul it away. Firefighters have also punched out windows at the house next door and appear ready to start pulling personal items out from there.
For the time being residents will not be allowed to return to the other five houses evacuated Thursday — two on Robmar Road and another three on Mary Jane Lane, one block over, according to Jeff Parks, chief of the Dunedin Fire Department.
Even though the size of the sinkhole — roughly 90 feet in diameter and 56 feet deep — hasn’t increased since Thursday evening, there is some concern that rains forecast for today and Saturday could cause more soil to collapse, Parks said.
Once both houses are leveled, crews will start filling in the massive sinkhole with dirt. That process is likely to take a couple of days, Parks said.
Michael Dupre, who lives at 1112 Robmar Road, discovered the sinkhole off his back porch about 5:40 a.m. Thursday, and the hole kept growing throughout the day. By early afternoon, the hole had swallowed parts of the Dupre home, along with the house next door, at 1100 Robmar Road, where an in-ground swimming pool was among what the hole swallowed.
Neighbors said Robmar Road — which is in a middle-class neighborhood lined with ranch-style single-family homes near Dunedin High School and just north of downtown — has had problems with sinkholes. Years ago, part of the street itself collapsed.
The sinkhole that opened up on the Dupres’ property was no surprise — though its quick and tremendous expansion was.
The Dupre family has been engaged in a monthslong court battle with its insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., after a sinkhole was discovered on the property two years ago, said the family’s attorney, Jason Salgado.
Once a sink hole was discovered at the Dupre property, Citizens suggested a repair plan costing roughly $90,000 to $110,000.
Engineers contracting with Citizens called for what is called deep-compaction grouting, where a cement-like concoction is pumped at high pressure into the soil, typically 40 to 70 feet deep. The intent is to seal off breaks in the limerock.
The Dupres were not happy with that plan, though. They had their own assessment done and hired Salgado.
The engineering firm the family hired came up with a plan that would cost $231,000, Salgado said.
In addition to the deep-compaction grouting, there would be additional so-called shallow grouting at depths of as much as 15 feet. And there was also talk of possibly putting pilings underneath the house’s slab as further support, Salgado said.
Citizens and the Dupres disagreed on which plan was best, and the Dupres filed a lawsuit in May 2012 that is still pending.
With the lawsuit still winding through the judicial system, the Dupres decided to go ahead with the Citizens deep-compaction grouting plan. Work began two days ago.
Salgado wouldn’t speculate as to whether the judicial delays or the repair work caused the sinkhole that opened Thursday morning.
Michael Peltier, a spokesman for Citizens, said sinkholes sometimes open up as work commences.
“It’s not uncommon that when you start to do remediation work, there is ground settling that takes place, but not usually as dramatic as what you saw today,” Peltier said.
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