SYLACAUGA, Ala. (WIAT) — Neighbors in Sylacauga and across Talladega County have reported seeing more sinkholes in recent months.
The Alabama Geological Survey has confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of sinkholes reported to them, something residents have told CBS 42 they have concerns about.
“I’m reaching out for help and asking for help because I don’t know what else to do,” Sylacauga resident Amanda Green said. “I just know the sinkholes are growing.”
Green said that over the past few years, she’s seen sinkholes get larger and new ones pop up.
“We already have a problem, it’s just no one’s been hurt yet,” she explained.
The Sylacauga First Baptist Church is thankful no one was hurt when the church’s second sinkhole opened up during a construction project a couple of years ago. Pastor Rick Patrick said that because the sinkhole was not covered by insurance, the church had to pay over $200,000 to fix it.
In an email statement, the Alabama Department of Insurance said:
“Sinkhole coverage is not typically covered by the standard homeowner insurance policy. If an insurance company offers coverage for sinkhole, it would be through a premium bearing endorsement. However, sinkhole coverage may not be as widely available as it may have been in the past. If a sinkhole occurs on private property, the responsibility falls upon the homeowner.”
For homeowners like Michael Harris, whose home in Sylacauga sits atop a repaired sinkhole, it could mean losing everything.
“One of these days, I’ll have to leave this house because it’s not going to quit,” Harris said.
Harris said that about two decades ago, the city repaired the sinkhole around his home. Now, it’s reopening and his home is sinking with it.
However, Sylacauga Mayor Jim Heigl maintained the city doesn’t have a sinkhole problem.
“It’s really not a big deal to us here,” Heigl said. “We don’t have any more than Florida has.”
However, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, both Alabama and Florida have some of the worst reported sinkhole damage in the country.
Last year, researchers at Auburn University published a study about sinkholes found along Alabama’s highways. Jack Montgomery, an associated professor at AU who led the study, said there’s a reason why Sylacauga and the surrounding area are more prone to sinkholes.
“Sylacauga is famous all over the world for its marble and marble is one of the types of rock that can erode due to that flow of water and so over time, there have been openings that formed in that rock and it, unfortunately, underlies a large portion of the city,” Montgomery said.
According to the study, sinkholes are often found near active quarries, which can disrupt groundwater activity due to the nature of their operations.
“Anything that can change the water conditions can lead to sinkholes,” Montgomery said. “Pumping of groundwater can lead to sinkholes.”
That means the quarries in and around Sylacauga could be making the problem worse.
“The quarry’s doing a fine job here,” Mayor Heigl said. “They’re bringing jobs and money into here, they’re not creating these things. This is an act of nature.”
Heigl said the city monitors and repairs sinkholes when needed, adding crews would go to Harris’ house to see if they can help him.
For the First Baptist Church, however, city help wasn’t an option. When it comes to sinkhole damage and helping fix them, Patrick hopes things will change.
“There ought to be some way of relieving that,” he said.
Attempts to reach nearby quarries like Imery’s, AM3 Stone, and Omya about the sinkholes were not successful.