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Sinkholes opening near Williamsport, interstate

April 09, 2001

Sinkholes opening near Williamsport, interstate



WILLIAMSPORT - Years of drought may be to blame for a series of sinkholes that are opening up near the intersection of Md. 63, Md. 68 and Interstate 81.

One hole 35 feet in diameter at the end of the northbound I-81 off-ramp was 12 feet deep Saturday and was growing, according to Allen Swope, a retired Maryland State Police barrack commander who is lending his expertise to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Swope on Monday said the entire area is riddled with ancient limestone crevices that lead right into the cliffs along the C&O Canal.

Those formations normally are covered by earth held in place through moisture stored in the soil, Swope said.

But the last few years have been classified as drought years and that soil is dry and won't hold together, Swope said.

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"I've never seen anything like this," Swope said, noting that he lives in the area. "The ones that have opened are getting bigger and more are developing."

Swope said the SHA has looked at some of the holes and blocked off at least one with cones, barrels and tape to keep people out.

"I notified the Department of the Environment to look into this too," Swope said. "This is not an annual event ... it's unusual and something that needs to be dealt with."

Swope warned of the dangers of sinkholes, noting they open and close, sometimes very quickly.

SHA spokesman Dave Buck said Saturday that spring is the time of year for holes like these to appear after repeated freezing and thawing cycles of winter.

The sinkholes were not threatening any structures, although Swope said one hole is tending to burrow under the end of the I-81 ramp.

- Marlo Barnhart

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