Winter Haven, FL -- That massive sinkhole in the parking lot of a Publix shopping plaza opposite Legoland may not have finished growing yet. Engineers remain on the scene, monitoring the situation.
You might think before any major company or developer starts building on a particular piece of property they would thoroughly check it out for the potential of a sinkhole. But while it turns out Florida law mandates some testing, it may not be enough.
"When it happens they make news," says Bill Bracken, one of the areas foremost experts on sinkholes.
It's Bracken's engineering firm that Hillsborough County called upon when a deadly sinkhole opened up under a home in Seffner last year killing 37-year-old Jeff Busch.
Since then, there have been several more sinkholes. Most affecting homes, but many affecting commercial properties as well.
The Bob Evans restaurant off I-4 in Seffner was eventually torn down and replaced. An entire villa collapsed in Clermont in the middle of the night sending visitors scrambling for safety. And now, in Winter Haven, a huge depression.
"Commercial structures are not immune to sinkholes," said Bracken.
We wondered how big companies spending millions of dollars on commercial developments, wouldn't know that the ground they are building is potentially unstable.
Bracken says unlike with single family home development, Florida law requires commercial developers to at least test the ground under what will be the foundation. Making sure it can handle what will be built on top of it. But Bracken also says the techniques used to accomplish that, like ground penetrating radar, can only tell you so much.
The only way to really know what may eventually occur, he says, is through deep testing -- core sampling. Which can get very expensive – even cost prohibitive. That, he says, is not required by law.
So should it be?
"Well, as someone who spends a lot of time working with the building code, there are a lot of people who complain there are already too many regulations," said Bracken, "So I guess it comes down to how you feel about regulations."
Even with such tests, experts say central Florida's shifting subterranean sands still make sinkholes unpredictable over time.
Dr. Jon Arthur, with Florida's Geological Survey, says in the long-term "my inclination is there are no guarantees because even if you conduct these surveys they have a certain limit within which they can see things."
And even with the sinkhole in Winter Haven showing signs of stabilizing, experts say the adjacent structures still need to be concerned. Even if the massive hole doesn't reach them, it still will have likely destabilized the ground under them.