The Land of Sunshine, Beautiful Beaches and Sinkholes

“The Land of Sunshine, Beautiful Beaches and……..Sinkholes”**

It seems like everyone in Tampa Bay has somehow been touched by a sinkhole. If you don’t own a home that has cracked in half because of one, then you have a relative or coworker or close friend who has lived through this menace. They are Florida’s equivalent of a small and confined, but equally destructive, earthquake. Except, instead of shaking from side to side, the land opens underneath the structure and can swallow your house whole. Or in part. The damage can be fairly indiscriminate.

If you think I’m being dramatic, in Guatemala just two years ago a sinkhole opened in an instant swallowing a dozen houses and killing 3 people who were found 330 feet below in a river of underground sewage. That’s about the depth of a 30 story building.

Large cities are more susceptible to sinkhole activity because of massive urbanization, lots of dirt disruption from digging, more water usage and sewer flow. Tampa is very vulnerable due to explosive growth in the last twenty years.

But, of all of Tampa Bay, Pasco County and those living in New Port Richey, Trinity, Hudson and Holiday are in a particularly precarious position. A home in Pasco is three times more likely to be damaged by a sinkhole than by fire. And keep in mind, most fires can be prevented. Not so with sinkholes.

Given that most Americans’ single largest asset is their home, the damage from a sinkhole is usually devastating. Lawyers have been enormously successful in assisting clients with keeping their homeowners’ insurance “honest” by getting involved at the beginning of the remediation process of filling the sinkhole, stabilizing the house and then repairing it. There are lots of areas where insurance companies attempt to cut corners to save on costs in either the stabilization process or in fixing the house. A good lawyer will be involved in every step of the process to insure that does not happen. And if the insurance company botches the fix your lawyer will fight to have them buy your home so you can walk away.

By the way, did you know that many of our lakes are remnants of sinkholes? As new communities arise in Trinity and New Port Richey, all that land disruption can result in an accidental aesthetic during the building process – a new sinkhole that eventually fills up with water from a nearby water table and becomes a new lake. It may be less land for a developer to build upon, but now he can sell his units as “waterfront”. From lemons to lemonade in two short steps!

Why has Pasco and New Port Richey, specifically, been so cursed with sinkholes? Simple geography. Geologists tell us that lots of Pasco County is covered with a relatively thin layer of sand and clay over a limestone bedrock. As the rains come and dump inches of water into the aquifer, it becomes more acidic as it sinks eating away at the limestone over the years. When the limestone has eroded mostly away, the sand and clay covering collapses, unearthing a large gaping hole.

This predicable occurrence in an already overbuilt area has kept attorneys who specialize in sinkhole litigation quite busy. If you think you heard more about sinkholes in Trinity and New Port Richey a few years ago and maybe a bit less now, the reason may be the tanking of the economy in 2008 that all but ended new construction which put a halt on digging and land interruption.

But to the residents of New Port Richey, Trinity, Holiday and Hudson, remain vigilant. Being in your home for twenty years does not guarantee that you’re not sitting atop an acidic aquifer, an eroding limestone bedrock and thinning sand and soil. If you find yourself with a home cracking apart and sinking into green earth, there are many attorneys and law firms that can help you out of this proverbial and literal hole in the ground.

**The title of this piece was coined by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, a/k/a Swiftmud regarding New Port Richey, Pasco County and Florida, in general

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