Signal Mountain sinkhole: Cave-in of old mine under road causes concern

Signal Mountain sinkhole: Cave-in of old mine under road causes concern

January 9th, 2013 by Pam Sohn in Local Regional News

Tennessee Department of Conservation employees Trevor Martin, Jennifer Dulin, Tyler Jeffrey and James Finley, from left, stand on Battles Lane atop Signal Mountain to examine a sinkhole and eroded coal mine which has shut down the road leading to a handful of residences.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Three days of concern should be coming to an end this morning as a state contractor fills in a collapsed mine shaft beneath a road leading to three or four homes on Signal Mountain.

John Milligan and other residents told state officials that they had been stranded when a sinkhole had opened over the weekend beneath the private road leading to their homes on Battles Lane just off Timesville Road.

When Milligan showed the sinkhole to state workers, they saw that it actually was a very old and collapsing mineshaft that stretched for several feet beneath the road. Only a few inches of dirt separated the road surface from the yawning mine shaft with a roof that gradually was collapsing.

"It's too weak to drive a car over," said James Finley, an environmental specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, who estimated the collapse is about 6 or 8 feet wide, but the mine shaft is about 20 feet deep.

TDEC spokeswoman Tyler Jeffrey - inspecting the site with Finley on Tuesday - said state officials are using federal emergency funds from the state's abandoned land mines program to give the residents emergency relief.

The fund will pay a contractor who will finish collapsing the shaft and then fill the hole with gravel to replace the road and seal off the mine shaft.

Neither the county nor the state road programs could help because Battles Lane is a private road.

"We were looking [Tuesday] at geological maps of the area that provide us with information about where mines and shafts were located," Jeffrey said. "The area [over this shaft] is extremely weak."

Like many mountain areas in the Cumberland Plateau region, the Timesville Road community is criss-crossed with old mines.

The mines and shafts, if found and left open, pose a danger not just to roads but also to curious children and adults who should know better.

"If any landowners or residents see something like this happen, it is very important to stay away from it and keep their kids away, and then call the TDEC hotline," Jeffrey said.

That number is 888-891-TDEC (8332), she said.