May 26, 2020
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50-foot-deep sinkhole opens on Rockland road

ROCKLAND, Maine — A hole 50 feet deep and 25 feet wide opened in Old County Road on Monday, forcing officials to close the road.

Department of Public Works Director Greg Blackwell said Tuesday that around 4:30 p.m. Monday a motorist called police saying his car had been damaged when it struck a pothole. Fire Department crews reached the scene about 5 p.m. and found a hole in the road in the vicinity of the Rockland Golf Course.

“There was an opening in the road — you could hear stuff, like water,” Blackwell said. “Around 6 [p.m.], the whole pavement let loose.”

The road, which was built over a tunnel between two old limestone quarries, collapsed when the supporting structure over the tunnel let go, he said.

Blackwell estimated that the resulting hole was 50 feet deep and 25 feet across.

No one was injured, and Fire Department crews blocked off the road.

Blackwell said traffic would have to detour to Route 1 for as long as the section of road is closed.

Emergency crews will have to go through Rockport and back into Rockland to get to some people on Old County Road, according to Rockland City Manager Rosemary Kulow.

There is no timetable for repairs, Blackwell said Tuesday evening.

Officials were unsure Tuesday who would be paying for the repairs. Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency, said he planned to meet with Maine Emergency Management Agency officials on Wednesday and would work to get state and federal funds.

What caused the sinkhole to collapse was uncertain, Sisk said Tuesday, but if it can be determined that it resulted from one of the two recent rainstorms, then aid may be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Anything we can do to take the burden off the local taxpayers is what we’re doing,” Sisk said.

“Typically we get a thaw, everything turns to mud, we get rain and it takes out roads. Every year we’ve had at least one of those events in the springtime, but this is unusual,” Sisk said of the hole.

Joe Kelley, chairman of the Earth Science Department at the University of Maine in Orono, said the collapse of the road is unusual for Maine. He said a likely cause was water eroding limestone over time.

“Limestone dissolves. It wasn’t one day’s rain that did it. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, probably,” Kelley said.

“Maybe it was accentuated by how the water moved off the road, but it isn’t cause for great alarm. All of Rockland won’t be swallowed up,” he said.

Norma Sawyer, who lives three houses down from the sinkhole, said it hasn’t bothered her too much.

“I drew some water because I was afraid my water would run out. Then I slept peacefully,” she said.

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