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Sinkhole dilemma: Could Pasco County block people from repairing their own homes?

Pasco County has not had to deny anyone a permit yet, because the holes themselves have not damaged anyone’s individual property.

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — In Pasco County, they have described 76 cave-ins and depressions which began forming in August as something unprecedented in our state.

It might also set up an unprecedented legal confrontation between homeowners in the Hudson subdivision where the holes have formed and the county itself.

Pasco County has not had to deny anyone a permit yet, because the holes themselves have not damaged anyone’s individual property.

But the depressions are still growing and getting closer to people’s houses, and for now, nothing is being done to stop that.

So, neighbors are imagining an uncomfortable scenario where it gets to a point that they find sinkhole damage in their house. Engineers and insurance companies say it needs to be fixed. But the county declines to sign-off on the work, because they think it might do more harm than good.

“Would I like damage to my home? No. But, I don’t know what they can do,” said Barbara Luster, whose home sits right next door to a retention pond where several holes have formed.

Luster is concerned, “It’s gonna affect us. Yeah.”

Last week, Pasco County’s emergency management manager admitted they had actually asked the Lakeside Woodland’s HOA president to hold off on repairing the retention property. They cited concerns raised by a pair of engineering reports which both said traditional repair methods might do more harm than good.

“We’ve had In-depth conversations about it. About the safety aspect and everything like that, about what they want to do,” said Pasco Emergency Manager Andrew Fossa. “And he is waiting until we come up with what is our solution going to be.”

But that wait and see scenario may have also set the stage for what could be an unprecedented confrontation between private property owners and the county.

Let’s say local houses do start to crack or buckle from sinkhole expansion, and the property owner’s insurance company and engineers say they need to pour grout, or drive pilings.

Pasco County would not commit to issuing permits for the job if they thought it might destabilize the ground under surrounding homes.

“What they try to do to fix something there – it’s going to cause problems - most likely cause a problem, downwind, downhill,” said Fossa.

“If that problem was going to be fixed - and it should be fixed by the carriers that are insuring the property for this condition - then the code officials are putting themselves way out there for liability if they don’t solve this problem and solve it fast,” said Property Rights Attorney Larry Bache.

Bache says if Pasco County declines to allow a fix, and the homeowner has insurance coverage, the insurance company might have to declare the home a total loss.

Those without coverage might have to sue the county for damages.

“It’s just - at what point should county officials step in? And what about the protection of these consumers?” said Bache, “I mean obviously - are they being told by these engineers that they’re supposed to wait until there’s holes that open up in someone’s home next?”

The county hopes it doesn’t come to that. They say state and private engineers are working on non-traditional solutions.

“Again, we’re not in a normal situation,” said Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles. “We’re trying a lot of different paths. To see if we can have one that makes sense for most of the people out there.”

“I don’t know what they can do,” said Luster. “I really don’t know what they can do.”

RELATED: Depression forms under family's home in Lutz

RELATED: 'We’re all sitting on a keg of dynamite': Neighbors frustrated by Pasco holes

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