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Leesburg council scolds county over sinkhole communication

Courtesy Photo/Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg)
The fallout from the Pennington Lot sinkholes continued Monday and Tuesday nights as Leesburg Town Council scolded builders for not telling the town and the public sooner.

“We still have a great deal of concerns,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “There needs to be a strong communication between the town and the county on this.”

Leesburg and the public found out about the two sinkholes that appeared during the construction of the Pennington Parking Garage in early September, when builders asked the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors for $3.5 million to fix the problem. The first sinkhole appeared in mid-June.

When Burk asked why the town didn’t hear about this sooner, Joe Kroboth, director of Loudoun County’s Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, admitted that he should have kept the public in the loop.

“I would say yes. Because that created another level of mistrust,” Burk said.

Council approved the Pennington Parking Garage 5-1 in February 2016 amid mixed opinion from Leesburg residents. The garage is meant to provide additional parking for the expanded Loudoun County Courthouse complex.

On June 14, a “void” 10 feet in diameter and six-to-eight feet deep appeared on the Pennington site as builders drilled into the bedrock to install foundational pilings. Another sinkhole, related to the first, opened as the crew began preventative “compaction grouting” on Aug. 21. As the project moves forward, the crew will take continual measurements to watch for, and hopefully stop, any more shifting.

Neighboring homeowner John Burnham discovered a small hole near an exterior wall of his house. The crew cannot verify that the hole is connected to the construction, but it is monitoring the area nevertheless. Burnham said that his foundation has remained stable for 44 years, and he has never seen any holes near his house before.

“What this points to, at a minimum, is sloppiness and lack of due diligence,” he said. “I think we need to know what’s really going on with this project.”

Much of Leesburg lies on karst limestone, a rock mixture prone to sinkholes. Both the town’s post office and Giant were built on sinkholes.

Council posed several tough questions to Kroboth Monday night. Councilman Fernando Martinez, who voted against the garage, asked if Kroboth expected more holes to open.

Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox asked what would happen if another hole appeared. Councilman Tom Dunn, who also voted against the garage, asked if the county could back out of the contract or reduce the size of the garage.

Kroboth answered that he cannot predict when, where or if more voids will appear, but that the crew will continue its preventative procedures. The garage is already 30 percent built, he said, and backing out now or changing the size would mean a costly settlement with the builders.

Kroboth emphasized that he has no worries about the stability of the finished garage.

“There’s no question the structure will be safe … for decades to come,” he said.

Because of the sinkhole delay, the project is expected for completion in November 2018.

In other business Tuesday:

-As Town staff continues to look into changing food truck regulations, Council voted to consider allowing private businesses to invite food trucks onto their property without a permit. The issue first came to council attention when local microbreweries did not get permits for visiting food trucks. The final decision will not come to a council vote until several months from now.

-Council appropriated $1.3 million from the 2018 budget to replace parts of the solids handling dryer at the water pollution control facility. Installed in 2001, the dryer has been malfunctioning since April 2017. The new dryer, like its predecessor, turns solids into an organic fertilizer available for free to Leesburg residents.

Comments


Was this area checked for limestone before building began? It causes alot of sinkholes and Loudoun is famous for limestone.

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