LAND O' LAKES, FL -- Friday will mark two weeks since a massive sinkhole opened in Land O’ Lakes, swallowing two homes, and to look at it, not a lot has changed.
Three additional houses are still off-limits. The road remains closed. And the 50-foot-deep hole itself is still cesspool of contamination and debris.
“There's a lot of precautions, but the hole looks the same,” said Shelbi Currie, who lives three houses away from the sinkhole. “The house is still there, right? The car. Everything that fell in the hole.”
And that's the problem.
Pasco County has been haggling with the insurance companies of the houses affected, calling the cleanup a private matter. But, so far, at least one of those insurers has told the county it's not their problem. And another argues they've already paid the property owner and have no further liability.
“The county is not going to spend taxpayer dollars to completely remediate the sinkhole,” said Pasco Assistant Administrator Kevin Guthrie.
In the meantime, neighbors continue to live with a closed road and the occasional stench from stagnant trash. There's concern their water wells are being contaminated by it.
And the longer the hole sits there, neighbors wonder what it'll do to property values.
“I think mainly it's the perception that people get, is that there's danger, and they're not going to want to move into the neighborhood because of that,” said Patrick Tara, who lives around the block.
On Thursday, Pasco County officials announced if the private insurance companies don't do something, they will.
They intend to hold an emergency commission meeting Monday morning. They say they have bids from three contractors ready to move in within 24 hours to clean up.
The bill, they promise, will be passed along to private insurers - somewhere between $650,000 and $1.2 million.
“The county is going to seek as much reimbursement as possible that the taxpayers are going to pay out,” said Guthrie.
“I can't tell them what to do. They have to do what they have to do,” said Dotty Benschoter, whose house is right next the hole.
Benschoter and others say they don’t like the lack of movement, but they don’t want anyone hurt or any more property lost by going too fast.
Benschoter says University of South Florida geologists are monitoring her property for seismic activity.
Several neighbors have asked Pasco to pay for ground-penetrating radar tests under their houses. Others want to be reimbursed for well water cleanup or treatments.
The answer to that was a respectful "no".
“My heart pleads because I want to do that,” said Guthrie, “But we just cannot do that with taxpayer dollars.”
Contractors say they intend to use a dragline to pull the debris up and out of the sinkhole, or at least close enough to the edge so that it can be picked up with heavy equipment and put into dump trucks.
The debris would then be taken to a local landfill and spread out so owners and renters of the properties affected could be given a chance to sift through it for valuables.
Cleanup is expected to take two or three weeks.
Beyond that, the county says it intends to “hit the pause button” – not yet sure what it will do.
Options range from leaving the sinkhole alone to filling and repairing, or maybe even connecting it with a nearby lake.
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