Beautiful Spring Hill in Hernando County has a disconcerting side, the unseen underground erosion activity of the limestone and other weak soils on which it is built. The probability of a sinkhole’s development in Hernando County is high due to the area’s geological composition. This is especially true in the rainy season, when more than twice the number of sinkholes occurs as in the dry period. Above is the sinkhole that suddenly disrupted a runway at the Hernando County Airport following the massive rains of Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012. While your individual risk still remains low, vigilance is important and fast action can often prevent a nightmare.
Much of the “Sinkhole Alley” corridor from Marion County (Ocala) through Citrus County, Hernando and Pasco Counties into the Tampa Bay Area’s Hillsborough County is comprised of limestone, exposed at the surface or covered by a thin layer of soil. It dissolves continuously as acidic water drains down through its porous structure. The intense rains of hurricanes and tropical storms and flooding contain partially acidic water which becomes more acidic as it dissolves and carries away particles of the limestone, speeding the erosion process that ultimately creates subterranean voids or caverns.
The erosion starts to cause staircase-type cracks in foundations and walls, sagging doors and windows, sinking patios and pools and other signs of foundation failure as the ground gives way and the foundation weakens… until the ground cover sinks into the underground caverns to form a sinkhole. Many of the region’s vast numbers of lakes and ponds were formed this way.
In extreme cases a home collapses, as did the Tampa-area Bush residence not far to the south, when a sudden sinkhole swallowed a man in his bed in the middle of the night… Or the home in Hudson immediately to the south of Spring Hill in Pasco County, half of which collapsed into a sinkhole about 25 ft. wide and 50 ft. deep on June 21, 2012 after Tropical Storm Debby (as seen on NBC News and shown on the right). But one neighbor was not concerned with the evacuation order in that news video because he had his home stabilized with cement (grouting) a few years before.
Just 3 counties – Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough – account for 66% of all sinkhole claims in Florida, the state which leads the nation in sinkhole activity. Approximately 1/4 of all sinkholes are in Hernando County alone, and the Spring Hill area ranks #1 in the nation for sinkholes. So limestone erosion is to be expected in the area, and a wise homeowner will keep an eye out for signs of foundation damage and weakening or shifting soils. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Consider the numbers: The County Property Appraiser’s office said 6,106 Hernando County sinkholes were reported during the 2000-2013 period. The intensive storms and mass flooding were probably responsible in part for the increase in sinkhole activity in 2006-2009, when 4,276 sinkhole claims were filed. Later, flooding from Super Storm Debby in June 2012 caused over 50 sinkholes to open up in just a couple of days! In 2013, just from Jan. 1 through April 19th, 590 sinkhole claims were reported to the property appraiser’s office, still a high number even if down from 852 for the same period last year.
Only 2,726 of the 6,106 properties had sinkhole repair due to the high cost of sinkhole remediation and property repairs, the confusing and litigious sinkhole insurance claim process, the absence of a requirement to apply claim proceeds to actual remediation and repair of the property, and to Florida’s changing sinkhole insurance laws. It has been a complex, confusing, changing arena. Now most property insurance only covers “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” when sinkhole damage is so massive and dangerous that the property is condemned. Protection of your home in the early stages is the only acceptable alternative solution.
So it is not surprising that in 2013, Spring Hill and Hernando County had an inventory of 3,380 unrepaired properties … Now with increasing numbers of abandoned properties due to Florida’ 2013 sinkhole insurance law changes and frequently loss of coverage, there is serious concern… Sinkholes, and especially unrepaired properties, are a drain on the local economy that is so serious Hernando County asked FEMA for sinkhole relief.
The price tag of repairs can add up. After all, a massive amount of pressure grouting can be required to stabilize deep down to the bedrock when the underground cavities and channels are large. Additional costs are incurred when weak surface soils need to be densified, effectively cemented together with chemical grouting, and if steel underpinning of foundations is also required. Then there’s the far lesser, yet still important, expense of cosmetic restoration.
Foundation Services can provide efficiencies and peace of mind by doing it all with our own crews, coordinated from Ocala headquarters, so all the specialized services and divisions work seamlessly for our Spring Hill sinkhole repair customer. But there are very real expenses that must be passed on, and during each day of delay, the situation worsens and the price tag mounts. So here, time IS money…. Sadly, for many of the unrepaired sinkhole properties in Hernando County, it became too late for affordable remediation or too complex with insurance issues.
So don’t delay. It WILL get worse! If you suspect a problem, let’s take care of it before it becomes a huge, costly and dangerous proposition. Protect your home… Act BEFORE there is serious foundation damage, and before you lose your home or property… or even your life… to an actual sinkhole. Contact the Sinkhole Pros for a Free Consultation: 866-622-3723.