Unexpected Sinkhole Opens Near Busy Road in Lakeland, Florida

A large sinkhole has opened up near homes and a busy road on the south side of Lakeland, near Scott Lake. The sinkhole, first spotted on Thursday night, has been growing rapidly, causing alarm among residents and prompting the closure of Scott Lake Road.

Sinkhole Discovery and Development

The sinkhole was first noticed by Sandra Benavidez Carpenter and her family as a small hole near the intersection of Scott Lake Road and Fitzgerald Road. They initially assumed it was related to construction in the area. However, on returning Friday, they discovered that the hole had grown significantly. “I was like, ‘Oh gosh, we literally saw a sinkhole forming,” shared Benavidez Carpenter. By the last measurement, the sinkhole was about 75 feet across and 120 feet deep. This places it dangerously close to several homes and Scott Lake Road, only a few dozen feet away.

Scott Lake Road Closure

In light of the rapidly expanding sinkhole, Polk County decided to close a portion of Scott Lake Road from Fitzgerald Road to Old Scott Lake Road. Emergency personnel from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to block access and direct traffic away from the unstable area. At the same time, Polk County Fire Rescue assessed the potential threat to structures and safety.

Potential Cause

The recent sinkhole may have been triggered by well-drilling activities in the area. Southwest Florida Water Management District records show that a permit was issued in April for a 400-foot well for irrigation. During drilling at about 180 feet, a hard layer of rock was penetrated, leading to a void down to approximately 300 feet. According to Jay Jarvis, Polk County’s Director of Roads and Drainage, puncturing that rock layer may have caused the sinkhole by enabling the earth’s rock layer to spill into the void below. Three nearby homes could potentially be affected, but as of Friday afternoon, no structural damage was reported, and no evacuation orders have been issued. Nonetheless, homeowners adjacent to the sinkhole were contacted by officials from Polk County Fire Rescue and the Polk County Building Division.

Public Safety Measures

In the meantime, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has cordoned off the affected roads until further notice and is advising drivers to find alternate routes. The public is urged to avoid the area while repair work is ongoing. Given that the sinkhole opened on private property, it is currently the responsibility of the landowner to address the issue. “What they’re proposing to do right now to try to prevent the hole from opening up anymore is basically start back-filling the hole as it exists,” said Jarvis. Materials and equipment are being mobilized to the sinkhole site for this purpose. Once the hole is filled, Scott Lake Road can be reopened. However, according to Jarvis, work is expected to be completed by Saturday “at the earliest.”

Current Status and Forward-Looking Measures

Polk County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief of Operations estimated that the sinkhole is about 75 feet wide and has grown since it first opened on Friday morning. Authorities are currently working to inspect and repair the sinkhole. The plan includes getting equipment to start backfilling the hole. The exact timeline for stabilization of the sinkhole is uncertain, but drivers should expect to see barricades on Scott Lake Road through at least Saturday.

County’s Assurance and Public Awareness

For now, according to Jarvis and the county, the road is not under immediate threat. Nonetheless, Polk County officials are maintaining close contact with affected homeowners and conducting ongoing assessments of the situation. They have also stressed that if the situation worsens, the county may intervene further. While the exact circumstances surrounding this sinkhole’s formation are being investigated, this incident underscores the need for continued vigilance and a keen understanding of the unique environmental factors at play in regions like Florida’s “sinkhole alley.” Regular information sharing and awareness drives by the relevant county departments ensure that residents are well-informed and equipped to handle such natural events.

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