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More studies should be done on ground in Love Chapel

Staff Report • Apr 1, 2013 at 11:19 AM

What can be done about sinkholes?

That’s a question Unicoi County officials hope someone can help them find an answer to.

Earlier this week, Unicoi County commissioners asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to declare the Love Chapel community a disaster area and for the appropriate agencies to evaluate the area for other sinkholes.

FEMA previously told county officials its authority does not cover sinkholes, which the agency has deemed to be pre-existing conditions aggravated by natural factors. That’s an oversight that needs to be corrected.

Unicoi County officials have closed Love Chapel Elementary School after a large sinkhole was found on school grounds in August.

Just eight months before that discovery, a large sinkhole opened up under a swimming pool at a house near the school.

Sinkholes form when water erodes rock under the surface of the earth. Geography plays a part in where sinkholes appear, and they are frequently linked with karst landscapes.

Generally, if one sinkhole is discovered in an area there are more to be found. That’s the lesson residents in Seffner, Fla. (where a sleeping man died Feb. 28 when his house was swallowed by a sinkhole) have learned this month. Two houses in the town were recently evacuated after large sinkholes were identified.

In Unicoi County, officials say they want to know how much of a problem sinkholes are in the Love Chapel community. It’s a good question, and one that residents who live there would also like to see answered.

As Press Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks reported in Tuesday’s newspaper, county officials are also worried about the fate of economic and residential development in the area.

Terry Haynes, the county’s superintendent of roads, told Unicoi County commissioners the discovery of more sinkholes will have a detrimental impact on property values in the Love Chapel community.

“If that’s part of the land we count on to build on in the future, it’s going to really take a toll on what we build out through there now,” Haynes said. “If we’re going to move that way, there’s no way until (we get) some kind of stabilization or some kind of information of what you’ve got underneath that ground.”

Even more important is the public’s safety. Unicoi County commissioners have asked for help from state and federal officials.

At the very least, TEMA and FEMA should assist Unicoi County in identifying the true extent of the sinkhole problem in the Love Chapel community.

Once that is completed, officials should work with the county in obtaining grants and low-interest loans to help Love Chapel residents, who could see their homes and life savings sucked into a sinkhole, relocate to safer ground.

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