City resident losing ground to sinkhole

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 9, 2015 1:00 p.m.

Janet Miller pleads for help in saving her property from a neighboring sinkhole.
Janet Miller pleads for help in saving her property from a neighboring sinkhole.

Janet Miller lives on Pheasant Lane in Fernandina Beach. When her house was built in the 1980’s, it was in the county, but following a 2008 annexation it is now in the city. This past fall she noticed a serious problem: a sinkhole that was developing on a neighboring property was starting to impact her property. She approached the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC), seeking help in saving her property during public input at the February 3, 2015 Regular Meeting.

According to City Utilities Director John Mandrick, in researching the problem it was discovered that a piece of drainage pipe was missing, probably dating to the time of construction in the 1980’s. At the time that Miller’s development was built there were many problems uncovered relating to poor and/or unauthorized building practices, including burying construction debris under driveways.

No one knows the true extent of the problem at this time. The missing pipe section causing Miller’s problem is located on private property. The county has refused to accept responsibility since the land was annexed into the city in 2008. Miller doesn’t care who fixes the problem, but she is getting increasingly concerned for the safety of her grandchild who plays in her back yard. Cracks are now developing in her pool deck as well.

Fernandina Beach Utilities Director John Mandrick
Fernandina Beach Utilities Director John Mandrick

City Manager Joe Gerrity said that the city has hired surveyors to examine the situation and try to estimate the extent of the problem. He said that the city could get an easement to correct the problem, but according to John Mandrick, such a fix could cost $25-50,000.

Billy Fancher, Miller’s son, reinforced his mother’s concerns. Commissioner Robin Lentz said, “We hear you. We won’t let it go.”

Surveyors are expected to visit the site the week of February 9.

Miller, who came to the meeting with a sheaf of papers demonstrating her attempts to get resolution to the problem, in desperation has also contacted media representative Ken Amaro. Her story may be seen at the link below:

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_28144)
9 years ago

Janet Miller and John Mandrick have had run ins. This past year, Janet moved her Barber shop to 14th st. from the Food Lions shopping center. Mandrick went after her for Impact Fees. Amounting to a few thousand dollars. She won the case, did’t have to pay. Mandrick then told her she had to install a water cooler in her barber shop. How many Barber Shops or Beauty shops have you been in that offers a water cooler? He lost again. This guy is going to drag his feet on this, unless our Commissioners and business manager get involved. I’ll bet his est. of $25-$50 thousand is way exaggerated.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
9 years ago

So – who in fact has declared this to be an actual sink hole? Has there been a geologist involved or other engineer who has deemed this to be the problem? I am curious because in my profession I have been asked about sink holes here on the island and was told that they have not been a problem here. Is this really a sink hole or is this wash out due to bad construction practices in or around the property?

Sherry Garbarini
Sherry Garbarini (@guest_28164)
9 years ago

08 was when Cape Sound had the property annexed into the city. Used to be county. Phesant Lane backs right up into the remaining property that Cape Sound owns or did own. They had a plan to revisit a continued construction that would run along the properties on Pheasent Lane. I didn’t realize Phesant Lane was annexed into the city. I do know that after Cape Sound was built my property is shifting as is others. The constuction of Cape Sound was a destructive force that changed the land and re-routed the force of water coming from the under ground spring that fed the 3.5 acres lake that is now a Disney water feaure fountain for the protected, gated residents of Cape Sound. I have measured the slope of our properties and watched the erosion happen. If any of you would like to see this first hand I will be happy to show you. I’ve lived here in this house for 20 years.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
9 years ago

Best for everyone with this potential problem to check with their insurance agent as I don’t believe that sinkholes are covered under your standard coverage. Unless there is a recorded easement I can’t see where it is the City’s responsibility.

Tom Roberts
Tom Roberts (@guest_28438)
9 years ago

After reading both articles, it sounds like there is agreement by Gerrity to repair the problem. Let’s hope it gets done before before someone gets hurt.