A depressing saga drags on for a Spotsylvania County family as a sinkhole continues to gobble up their front yard. Their driveway in its path, and a solution to the problem remains elusive.

“I’ve talked to everyone I can talk to,” Doug Woods said this week. “My sinkhole’s still there, except it’s getting bigger.”

He said the hole has grown to about 13 feet across and has taken aim at his driveway, which, he added, “is gonna need some work.”

Nine months after the hole opened because of a corroded underground drain pipe, Woods still can’t find out who is responsible for the sinkhole in the front yard of his Kingswood subdivision home.

The corroded underground steel drainage pipe, which runs beneath the Woods’ yard, the street and other properties, cracked apart. The escaping water ate away at the earth and the hole opened in February.

It was small at first, but has continuously grown as torrential rains have fallen in the Fredericksburg area in recent months.

Woods has asked the homeowners association, the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation who is responsible for the drainage pipe, which was installed by the neighborhood’s developer. No one has claimed responsibility.

A homeowners’ association attorney wrote to Woods in June that a “Deed of Dedication indicates Spotsylvania County has an easement for the storm sewer lines, which gives it the ability to repair and maintain the storm sewer lines.”

But the county countered that stance, saying it is not responsible for the failed pipe and sinkhole. That responsibility, a county attorney said in an email to Woods, usually falls to the HOA or property owner.

County Director of Zoning/Environmental Codes Troy Tignor wrote an email in August telling Woods that VDOT and the county consider it a private matter for which public money can’t be spent. Tignor added that both the county and the HOA are also “reluctant to undertake actions to repair the system due to the extensive immediate and future financial liabilities associated with taking on responsibility for the system.”

Woods said the estimate to repair the pipe and hole is $78,000.

The sinkhole story has gained some notoriety, as it has been covered in The Free Lance–Star and television networks. The coverage has spurred a bill aimed at fixing what appears to be a loophole that has trapped the Woods, his wife and their teenage daughter.

The bill, HB 1614, is co-sponsored by Del. Mark Cole and Sen. Bryce Reeves. It aims to create a fund that would help property owners in just such a situation. It is awaiting a committee referral.

Woods said he’s been told that he is not responsible or liable for the hole, but if he repairs it, he could then become liable for any impacts.

He said he can’t afford to repair the hole anyway. But he added that his brother has set up a GoFundMe account to help with any potential repair or legal fees.

Woods has taken some action, paying a contractor $900 to partially fill the hole with concrete bags and dirt because he’s concerned about trick-or-treaters on Halloween. It’s a short-term “band-aid” for a bigger problem Woods isn’t sure how to fix.

“This,” he said, “is that between-the-rock-and-a-hard-place situation.”

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436 sshenk@freelancestar.com

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