City: Sinkhole not ruled out in backyard ground collapse

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
An area is blocked off where sinkholes have formed on South Sprigg Street, as seen Wednesday, June, 19, 2013. (Laura Simon)

What led to the formation last week of a hole behind a vacant house on South Ellis Street apparently remains undetermined.

Some possibilities have been ruled out, but the chance the hole could be another sinkhole remains.

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department at 7:25 p.m. last Tuesday responded to a call of a possible sinkhole at 1125 S. Ellis St. The city's public works director Tim Gramling said he was unable to inspect the hole until later in the week and remains unsure as to what caused the void.

"We went out there to look at it and verified it wasn't a collapsed sewer line," he said. "We know it's not directly related to the South Sprigg sinkholes, but we haven't officially determined if it is or isn't a sinkhole."

Gramling said officials have determined the hole represents no threat to any city facilities or infrastructure, so it is now considered a "private property issue" and will no longer be investigated by the city. Fire chief Rick Ennis said last week the fire department would monitor the area "to see if it's an isolated incident or if more occur," but was not considering it a sinkhole at the time.

The property is owned by Coalter and Felty Investments, which buys neglected property in south Cape Girardeau. Jason Coalter, a partner in the business, said he was out of town when the incident occurred and is trying to decide his next step.

"I'm hoping to speak with the fire department this week to see if there's anything more going on with the situation," he said. "Nobody really reached out to call me, so I'm not exactly sure what's going on or what can be done."

Coalter said the hole, which is about 8 feet wide and 10 feet deep, raises concerns about "underlying soil or structural issues" and whether it could affect people living in the area.

"There's definitely some concern about it," he said. "It doesn't seem like a coincidence to me that a hole that deep would just show up, especially being so close to all those other sinkholes."

The property sits less than a mile from the South Sprigg Street sinkhole area. The four sinkholes -- which are on the roadway, near LaCroix Creek and under the South Sprigg bridge -- are monitored by the city and considered "active," according to Gramling. He said they all are part of one underground system and have the potential to grow.

"Right now, there are no new problems associated with those sinkholes, but as the river continues to drop, we'll see what happens," Gramling said.

Any major change in river levels can agitate the sinkholes, he said. This spring, flooding twice has affected the area. Most recently, the river June 7 crested at 44.53 feet, more than 2 feet above the designated "major" flood stage.

The Themis Street and Broadway floodgates in Cape Girardeau were opened last week, and the National Weather Service predicts the river will fall below the 32-foot flood stage by Wednesday morning.

Gramling said once the river is down and no heavy rain is forecast, the city may consider filling some of the sinkholes.

"Right now, we don't want to take any action until the flooding is down," he said. "Later, we may fill in the two on the road, but we'll probably have to do something a little more extensive this time with the one under the bridge because it is right there next to the structure."

On Wednesday, representatives with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Missouri State Emergency Management Agency met with local emergency management officials to inspect the sinkholes and conduct joint preliminary damage assessments. Gramling said SEMA will submit the information to the state to be considered for a federal disaster declaration. He has not yet received any updates on the process.


Pertinent address:

1125 S. Ellis St., Cape Girardeau, MO

2300 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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