Increase in Sinkholes Leaves West Virginia City Struggling

August 25, 2015

Officials in Huntington, W. Va., are scrambling to deal with an increase in sinkholes across the city.

Heavy rainfall and aging infrastructure have contributed to the increase, and the city lacks resources to do more than deal with sinkholes as they develop, city officials told The Herald-Dispatch.

“We’re running to the sound of guns,” said Lou Akers, executive director of the Huntington Water Quality Board. “We are at a point where we are just trying to take care of citizens’ and customers’ needs on an emergency basis. We’re completely reactionary. We don’t have the resources to be proactive.”

The board gets at least three sinkhole-related calls a week, said Wes Leek, Water Quality Board assistant director.

A sinkhole has repeatedly opened in Dr. Robert Turner’s lawn for the past five years.

“Sometimes a crew will come by and dump dirt and gravel in it, and it washes away in the next big storm,” Turner said. “We stay out of it and hope the driveway doesn’t cave in.”

Akers said his department initially estimated it would cost around $700 million to overhaul the entire sewer system. He was able to reduce the cost to about $375 million, but he said the city still can’t afford such a project.

“Why even talk about $375 million in the city of Huntington? You’re not going to get it,” Akers said.

He thanked Mayor Steve Williams and the current City Council for making the changes they did to give the department more to work with in addressing the problem.

Customers are frustrated because they have problems that haven’t been dealt with in years, Akers said.

“We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re going to have to try and find some unique ways to do some of this,” he said.

Akers said he believes a lack of maintenance in the past is responsible for escalating problems.

The city maintains 320 miles of sewer lines ranging in age from 50 to 100 years old or more, Leek said.

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