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County seeks help with sinkholes

By Megan Brantley, mbrantley@wcyb.com
Published On: Mar 26 2013 05:09:29 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 26 2013 06:00:00 PM CDT

The sinkhole that appeared at Love Chapel Elementary School has residents in the community worried.

UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. -

The sinkhole that appeared at Love Chapel Elementary School has residents in the community worried.

Julia Franklin went to Love Chapel Elementary School when she was a young girl. “It's sad that the school is closed and I wish there was something that could be done to open the school because there are a lot of memories there," she said.

Franklin now lives across the street from the property, only a few dozen feet from where the sinkhole lies. "It's scary, but they told us when this happened in August that we were not in any danger. But I don't know if they know that or not," said Franklin.

She isn't the only one who feels that way. Unicoi Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon tells News 5 many people are concerned and that sinkhole insurance is becoming too expensive. "It is currently upsetting the neighbors because it's made them in fear of their own lives and own property values," said Herndon.

Herndon tells us the county wants to recheck the area to check for sinkhole activity around the school. He says when he made a request to FEMA to declare the Love Chapel community a disaster area, he was denied because they don't cover sinkholes. "They consider it a pre-existing condition that maybe aggravated by a disaster. But from where they sit, it's not a disaster," said Herndon.

After a unanimous vote, county commissioners have asked for a second request to be made, saying with the help of FEMA and TEMA it could mean low-interest loans and grant funding to the county and homeowners. That might pay for more soil testing and even buyout options from homeowners living close to the sinkhole, who've seen property values sink. "We're going to contact anybody that may have a solution," said Herndon.

As for the school, Unicoi County Schools director Denise Brown says she's confident the cost of relocating the elementary school is covered by insurance.

Kids who would have gone to Love Chapel Elementary next fall will instead be placed in portable classrooms across the district.