Cleanup of massive sinkhole to start this week, but won't be quick or cheap

Several homes, vehicles, and even a boat were swallowed up. Now a contractor is preparing to begin to clean it up this week.

LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. – Jose Rodriguez, who is a Cuban immigrant, said he knows what it’s like to start with nothing, but he never expected he’d have to do it again.

He, his wife and two daughters have been staying with relatives after they were forced out of the home they’d lived in for 10 years when a massive sinkhole opened up underneath it more than two weeks ago.

Several homes, vehicles, and even a boat were swallowed up. Now a contractor is preparing to begin to clean it up this week.

Pasco County commissioners awarded a $640,000 contract to Ceres Environmental Services to clear debris from the 50-foot-deep and the 235-foot-wide hole that opened up on July 14.

The entire first phase of the cleanup, which is expected to span 3-4 weeks, will cost taxpayers $1.3 million.

Here's a breakdown of the total expenditures approved by the county:
• Debris removal (Ceres): $ 640,099
• Fill (Various contractors): $ 300,000
• Water hauling (EnvironWaste) $ 30,000
• Tip fees: $ 14,570
• Initial response expenditures $ 78,194
• Contingencies: $ 237,137

For the families impacted, it essentially means starting over. But for Rodriguez and his family, it means starting from nothing for a second time.

“Everything is in there; photos, memorabilia,” Rodriguez said, as he stared at the half of his home that still stands after the other half fell into the sinkhole.

“It’s tough, it’s hard to see that.”

Rodriguez stopped by after work on Tuesday to check on what was left of his home, arriving just as crews returned to Ocean Pines Drive to start preparing for clean-up.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

While a drone in the sky surveyed the scene from overhead, county officials below said they were taking extra precautions on what’s feared to still be unstable ground.

“We don’t want to exacerbate the issue when they start bringing heavy equipment in,” said Doug Tobin, Pasco County spokesperson. “They want to make sure the ground is stable. They’ve had ground penetrating radar in here.”

Tobin said the heavy equipment is expected to be brought into the site by Wednesday, with clean-up efforts fully getting underway by Friday. But Tobin cautioned work could be delayed at any time given weather or safety concerns.

No final decision has been made on what to do after all the debris is cleared from the sinkhole. But if they decide to fill it in, it would take enough dirt to fill more than 3 dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Tobin said crews will work to carefully remove as much debris as possible from the sinkhole to allow homeowners a chance to salvage any desired belongings later on, but it’s a chance Rodriguez said he wasn’t counting on.

“Maybe they might be able to bring up a whole cabinet or something and maybe the pictures are still in good shape inside,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

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