By: Chris Nallan
PALMYRA, Pa. -- Sinkholes are an ongoing problem across central Pennsylvania. It's difficult to know when one will open, and some communities, like Palmyra and Harrisburg, have been seemingly plagued by them.
A lot of residents may not know they're living above one, but there are things than can be done to figure out of if property is sitting above a sinkhole.
Sinkhole experts say it's hard to know when one will open, but there are signs residents need to watch out for, not matter if they've been living in the same area for years or are planning to buy or build a new home.
ARM Group Vice President of Geotechnical Services John Masland said sinkholes are inevitable for parts of central Pennsylvania, but not all areas are at risk.
"A potential homeowner should ask is whether or not the property in question is under laid by sinkhole prone bedrock," Masland said. "Just because you are in area that is generally prone to sinkholes doesn't necessarily mean the rock beneath is limestone or dolomite."
Homes built on bedrock composed of limestone and dolomite are most at risk for sinkholes.
On the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources websites residents can locate property or potential property to see the bedrock type.
Masland said residents should have a survey done of the property.
"It's a matter of degree certainly a geophysical survey could you an idea or the extent the rough likelihood of a sinkhole," Masland said.
If it's determined the property is on bedrock prone to sinkholes, there are signs a sinkhole could exist beneath your floors.
"If you see settlement of your house, cracking of walks, depressions in the yard where there weren't any before, windows that start to stick or doors that stick," Masland said.
Palmyra resident Ron Pritchard said he's noticed unsettling signs around his home.
"It's definitely an instance where you don't know when it might happen to you, even your own house," Pritchard said. "On both sides of the door we've noticed probably over the last three or so years."
Pritchard said there were cracks on both sides of the front door, and they were somewhat similar. The door is dead center in the home, but that's not the only place that has his attention.
"Last time we had a small flood in this area that was pretty much under the water in the yard there, like there was a dip," Pritchard said. "Pretty much right in this main area that always sits a little bit lower."
Pritchard said it seems to be getting worse lately.
"Just a few blocks up the street that's what happened there, people can't go back in the houses, it could happen at any time," Pritchard said.
Masland said the ground beneath property isn't a sure thing.
"Soils that have been stable for many, many thousands of years can become unstable," Masland said.
Masland said the instability that comes from how people work the land.
"The disturbance with development, construction, changing the way the water flows both above surface and below ground, installation of water bearing and utility lines, all those changes can impact what's going on under ground," Masland said.
Over the years human interactions with central Pennsylvania's ground has impacted sinkhole potential.
"I think many areas are in a relatively delicate state of balance, before something either man made it naturally changes that balance and a sinkhole can develop relatively rapidly," Masland said.
Pritchard knows that rapid isn't the speed he can tolerate.
"Yeah, I think about it quite often, I mean this is our livelihood right here, I don't really want to lose it, but you never know," Pritchard said.
Masland said anyone living on sinkhole prone land should get sinkhole insurance.
"I wouldn't say that you can absolutely prevent a sinkhole from occurring, because sinkholes could be caused by movement of water you have no control of," Masland said.
However, being aware is something the most that can be done.
"It's become a thought you know that we might have to move, whether we like it or not," Pritchard said. "It's like a cancer, it spreads."
PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/
Interactive Rock Map: http://www.gis.dcnr.state.pa.us/maps/index.html
And what are they doing about the Cherry street fiasco? Nothing. The borough caused the problem when they dug holes to install those handicap curbs which nobody uses. It will eventually spread farther to my house. Maybe then I can get the hell out of this god forsaken hick town.
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