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Crews work to fill 75-foot-wide sinkhole in Lakeland

Polk County officials narrowed down what seems to be the cause behind the sinkhole — drilling.

LAKELAND, Fla. — A large sinkhole near Scott Lake in Lakeland continues to expand, said the sheriff, who urged the public to stay away from the area.

Scott Lake Road at Fitzgerald Road was closed and blocked off through midday Saturday as workers tried to stop the expansion of the 75-foot-wide active sinkhole.

"The sinkhole is growing, we don't know how much bigger it will grow," Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference Friday afternoon. "We are going to block the road until the appropriate barricades are put in place."

Dump trucks filled with sand arrived at the site Saturday morning. 

See Florida sinkhole map here.

The sinkhole is on private property and the property owners will be overseeing the repairs, a spokesperson for Polk County Emergency Management told 10 Tampa Bay. The county is only monitoring the situation.

The 911 call about the sinkhole was initially called about it being on the roadway, but once authorities arrived in the area, they learned the sinkhole was on private property.

In an update Friday afternoon, Polk County officials narrowed down what seems to be the cause behind the sinkhole — drilling. After a private enterprise hired by a property owner hit a pressurized pocket while drilling, it caused the collapse, the county said. At this time, the owners are at the site assessing the situation.

Authorities say there are three homes in the surrounding area, and two of the homeowners have been notified of the sinkhole. However, there is no property or structural damage.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District said staff noticed the that sinkhole opened up within a retention pond during a site visit on Thursday. 

The district has notified Acres at Scott Lake, the company that manages the surrounding stormwater system, that it needs to repair the sinkhole to "sever the connection between the retention pond and the drinking water aquifer."

There is currently no threat to the surrounding roadway, but authorities say they are monitoring the area and closed Scott Lake Road as a precaution.

"At this time, it's currently not a threat to the roadway, but because of the traffic running the roadway and what vibrations can do to a sinkhole and cause it to collapse further, we did agree we'd close the road down. We will close until it's stabilized," said Jay Jarvis, the county's transportation engineering director. "We will continue to monitor the area, if there is an immediate threat to the roadway, then further action will be taken by the county." 

10 Tampa Bay spoke with neighbors who live along the sinkhole on Friday afternoon. Some said they were packed up and ready to leave at a moment's notice, but the Gutierrez family wasn't taking any chances, leaving to stay at a relative's home.

"The sinkhole is 30 feet from our property line right now, maybe a little less," Chris Gutierrez explained. 

He and his family were packing up photos and other important items. 

"We've got another place to sleep down the road so we're just going to do that," he said. 

Sinkholes are common in Florida. They can "theoretically form anywhere" because the state is largely underlain by limestone bedrock, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Slightly acidic groundwater slowly dissolves cavities and caves in the limestone and, over time, the cavity cannot support the Earth above it.

The Lakeland Ledger in 2018 reported that Scott Lake, like many Florida lakes, was created by a sinkhole that later filled with water. A 2006 sinkhole event caused the lake to lose much of its water when a sinkhole opened up on its southern shore.

Watch the full news conference below:

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