Sinkholes are an undermining fact of life in the Lehigh Valley – a region where rainwater relentlessly wears away limestone.
But residents who keep a close eye on gaps in the ground say recent heavy rains have made the problem visibly worse.
Some fear for the safety of youngsters, who might meet danger in places like Tatamy, where a 40-foot sinkhole (known locally as the “Forty Footer”) yawns about a mile from Trisha Street.
“With all of this rain, it has been playing havoc on the ground,” said Linda Iudicello, a Palmer Township resident. A sinkhole - about 10 feet wide and 4.5 feet deep – on her property dropped another foot and a half after a significant rainfall this winter. After more rain on March 10, the hole dropped another foot, according to the wary homeowner.
She says the expanding sinkhole in her backyard is one of 458 such holes found along the Bushkill Creek since 1999. The creek is a popular warm-weather destination for kids.
“It’s dangerous out here,” Iudicello said. “We are extremely fortunate that no one has ever gotten hurt.”
Iudicello is a founding member of the Brookwood Group, a community action organization formed in 1999. The group is made up of Palmer Township homeowners who lost their homes on Babbling Brook Road to chronic sinkhole issues. The group represents 21 families, she said. They work to raise public awareness of sinkhole dangers.
The sinkhole problem became widely evident five years after the group’s formation.
In 2004, a sinkhole damaged a northbound Route 33 bridge, which cost $3.5 million to replace.
PennDOT workers survey the two Route 33 bridges and approaches over the Bushkill Creek once every two weeks, said Ron Young, district press officer.
“An inspection of the key components on both bridges is done once per month,” Young said in an e-mail to Patch.
The monitoring is to ensure no significant movement in the bridges poses any hazardous driving conditions, according to Young.
“Basically, over the last year, there have been very minor movements,” he said. “Keep in mind that all bridges are designed to allow for movement, and all bridges do have movement. If at any time [PennDOT] felt there was any danger to motorists, the bridge[s] would be closed.”
When it comes to Tatamy’s closed Bushkill Street bridge, also known as the State Route 2017 Bridge, there are no plans for replacement, according to Young.
“As far as the Department knows, local officials do not want a replacement,” Young said. “We would not pursue utilizing taxpayer dollars to build a bridge where it is not wanted.”
According to Young, the bridge was closed when “a sinkhole opened beneath the relatively shallow foundations of the old Route 33 North bridge, causing it to sink lower than the Route 33 roadway. The new bridges have much deeper foundations, which limit the effect potential sinkholes could have on the two structures.”
Pennsylvania is one of seven states that suffer the most damage from sinkholes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The other states are Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Iudicello said one reassuring thing about local sinkholes is that they follow a pattern. She has had 3-D imaging used on her property to show exactly where the trouble spots are.
“You don’t get totally comfortable with it, but [the sinkholes] are not cropping up in new places,” she explained. “[The sinkholes] are cropping up in the same places they’ve always been. It’s the same fractures in the Earth. I’d be nervous if one cropped up in my back yard on virgin soil.”
For more information about the Bushkill Stream Conservancy e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.