Tennessee Officials Want Sinkhole Assessment

April 2, 2013

Officials in East Tennessee say they want to assess the risk of more sinkholes opening up near one that damaged a school and led to its closure.

Unicoi County Commissioner Doug Bowman told The Johnson City Press that he and Commission Chairman Mickey Hatcher want to formally request that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency study the Love Chapel community.

Love Chapel Elementary students were dispersed among different area classrooms after their school abruptly closed its doors in August. The sinkhole, which was discovered by someone passing by, turned out to be 120 feet deep and grew to 25 feet in diameter.

After ordering tests on the ground where Love Chapel stood, education officials decided it wasn’t safe to send students back and plan to relocate.

Linda Purchase, who lives near the school, said she bought her home in the community a decade ago and planned to spend the rest of her life there, but now she has worries about the future.

“I mean, I don’t spend every minute worrying about it, but I am concerned,” Purchase said.

The sinkhole near the school is the second large one to open since December 2011, when one was discovered under a residential swimming pool.

“It’s hard to believe they stop at the property line,” Bowman said. “So, we’re just trying to help the taxpayers and the homeowners. It’s a devastating blow to the county, and there’s no chance of returning the students, as far as I’m concerned, to a known danger. It’s just not an option to use that school building anymore.”

Bowman said if the area is declared a state or federal disaster area, it could lead to funds in the form of grants or low-interest loans and could help residents with offset losses in property values or help with relocation.

He said the community is starting to feel impacts from the sinkhole other than the school closure.

“There was a potential subdivision development next door that was about to happen, but probably will not,” Bowman said.

Purchase agreed that the area should be studied for sinkhole activity.

“I love the area,” Purchase said, “but I’d hate for something to happen and me not be aware so I can get the heck out of dodge.”

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