State undertaking sinkhole study - South Lake Press: News

LEESBURG State undertaking sinkhole study

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Posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 6:00 am

The state is using a $1.08 million federal grant to determine where sinkholes may develop.

The grant was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in conjunction with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, according to the Florida Geological Survey, which is conducting the statewide assessment of sinkhole vulnerability.

The following occurrences are of interest to residents of Lake County, which has been home to three of the state’s most publicized sinkholes in the past three years:

In April, a 60-foot deep sinkhole in The Villages was filled in between two residences, then started opening again.

In August 2013, a 100 foot-wide sinkhole swallowed a section of the Summer Bay Resort near Clermont. Thirty-five guests were in the building when it started breaking apart.

In July 2011, a 60 foot-wide sinkhole destroyed Main Street Hair & Beauty Salon in Leesburg when part of the building collapsed.

The state’s three-year sinkhole project started last year with geologists conducting a pilot study in Hamilton, Columbia and Suwannee counties, which ended in May.

The study’s results will contribute to the production of a model that will generate a map showing the relative vulnerability of these counties to potential sinkhole formation, the Florida Geological Survey said in a press release. The model will be used to produce a statewide map during the following two years.

“Florida’s geology is complex and this grant will allow the Florida Geological Survey to produce a predictive tool that will refine our understanding of sinkhole occurrence throughout the state,” Dr. Jon Arthur, director of the Florida Geological Survey, said in the release. “Ultimately, this assessment will aid planners, builders and environmental regulators for the betterment of human health and safety as well as the economy.”

According to Kathy M. Gray, a geotechnical engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, sinkholes may not be as random as some people thought. In a recent research paper, entitled “Central Florida Sinkhole Evaluation,” she said some areas of Florida have considerable numbers of sinkholes, while other areas have none.

The areas with the most sinkhole activity are where the confining layer between the upper and lower aquifer is weak and a downward flow of groundwater, called recharge, occasionally takes place. This causes the ground above to weaken.

A map accompanying Gray’s study shows a lot of historic recharge activity in south Lake, beginning south of Leesburg, and in north and northeastern Sumter County.

The information being gathered by the new study will help improve the State of Florida Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan risk assessment section on sinkholes, as well as its corresponding mitigation strategies, the release states.

“Sinkholes present a potential hazard to many Floridians throughout the state, FDEM Director Bryan W. Koon said in the release. “By better understanding sinkhole vulnerability in Florida, we will be better able to prevent loss of life and property and keep Florida’s families safe.”

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Central Florida also are devising a way to predict sinkholes. The researchers said last week that they’ve created a sinkhole simulator to help them understand what causes sinkholes, The Associated Press is reporting.

They are devising a prediction model that can predict where sinkholes are likely to occur. The researchers also are studying the relationship among sinkholes, rainfall and temperature.

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