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Possible sinkhole puts bridge project on hold

Heavy construction equipment sits quietly at the stalled Fairground Avenue and Furnace Creek bridge project, in Mountain City. The project is now on hold following the opening of a possible sinkhole, now under investigation by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

Wanda Blevins’ home on Fairground Avenue east off Church Street in Mountain City located just yards away from a $1.3 million bridge construction project over Furnace Creek that has been plagued with delays since the start. The site of heavy construction equipment, mounds of dirt and dozens of concrete sewer pipes sitting around for months adjacent the JC High School has been an eyesore for residents living nearby. School traffic, which backs up the street just one block north due to the necessary detour set for the duration, adding to the annoyance of the seemingly unending project. Grading, drainage, and paving are also on the to-do list. While understandably hoping for the project’s speedy-completion none of it bothers Blevins, who has lived in her home for the past eight years, the most.

“I am very much so concerned about this sinkhole that just opened up in the middle of the site,” Blevins said. “It’s a deep hole too; about 25 feet I think, and it’s pretty wide. There is no fence or some barrier to keep anyone out. I am babysitting my niece and nephew, both toddlers, and I am worried that they may get too close to the construction and hurt themselves or fall into the water or that hole.”

Blevins emphasized that while she and her family are careful to keep an eye on the children all it takes is one mistake. “The kids’ swing set is right outside, and we can’t let them play alone for a moment,” she said. “If they would just get on with it and finish it up, we would all sleep better.”

Unfortunately, Blevins and her neighbors have to exercise a bit more patience. While construction began by Adams Contracting, LLC in mid-January. The entire project has been in the making for nearly five years has no end-date, for at least not the near foreseeable future. According to City Mayor Kevin Parsons, the bridge project was originally scheduled for completion at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, has come and gone.

“The last I heard was that the project was to be finished mid-to-late April,” Parsons said, adding “That’s not going to happen now for sure.”Parsons emphasized his dismay when he said, “To be honest I am just as frustrated with this bridge project as anyone, not to mention the sinkhole situation, which I only heard about last week,” he said.

According to officials, the actual bridge project is in the hands of the State of Tennessee, with an 80/20 financial agreement with Mountain City. According to recorder Sheila Shaw, Mountain City was responsible for a maximum of $160,729.00 as its 20 percent share toward the bridge construction, which she said the city has already paid in full.

“That was just our share, but there is more,” she said, adding, “We were also responsible for relocating some of the utilities, which cost the city another $69,840.00.”

Money is spent; unfortunately, where a new bridge should be an enormous pile of dirt greets parents, students, and residents coupled with a sinister, 25 feet deep possible sinkhole lurking below. Community Relations Officer, Mark Nagi with the Tennessee Department of Transportation confirmed that on Saturday, February 3, 2018, the contractor was excavating to the footer grade on the bridge construction at Fairground, when a
hole appeared in the excavation, initially approximately 5 feet wide and unknown depth.

“The contractor immediately removed equipment from the excavation and made the site safe. The following week, TDOT Geotechnical Division and TDOT Environmental Division were consulted for remediation options.” Nagi said. “With the input from TDOT Geotechnical, a remediation plan was decided on, and the contractor began working on cleaning out the hole and progressing with excavation. Currently, the hole is approximately 10 feet wide and at least 25 feet deep.”

In an email to The Tomahawk, Nagi also stated, “At this point, the contractor has stopped work again while TDOT Construction works closely with TDOT Environmental and TDEC to upgrade the EPSC measures to prevent any sediment releases while work continues. Once upgraded, and EPSC measures are installed, the contractor will continue with the remediation plan.”

It is safe to say that the bridge, over Furnace Creek will be finished, eventually. TDOT is promising that normal construction operations are to resume as soon as remediation is complete. But, with too much uncertainty, including the limited knowledge of the actual size of the hole, officials find it difficult to estimate how long the remediation process will take. As for Blevins, she hopes it is sooner than later. For more information about projects, please visit the TDOT