Juneau sinkhole threatens fire station

JUNEAU, Alaska — One thinks of Florida when one envisions massive sinkholes swallowing whole buildings in a single gulp.

But in Juneau, the city not only has a massive sinkhole threatening its downtown fire station, but that hole may cost $1 million to fill, the Juneau Empire reported.

That’s a hefty price tag in a city where the state budgets about $20,000 annually to fill pot holes.

Making the situation even more dangerous, the fire engines, which weigh more than 50,000 pounds, are sending vibrations through the already shaky ground, Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge said.

A hole that formed last fall was large enough to swallow a pickup, the chief said.

“I was able to stand in it up to my neck,” said Etheridge, who stands about 6 feet 6 inches tall.

That sinkhole was filled, and firefighters continually make short-term fixes when sinkholes open up. But the fire department is looking for a long-term solution.

Juneau’s downtown fire station is built on fill. Much of downtown Juneau, which sits at sea level, is built on wooden pilings and mine tailings from the AJ Mine.

Water still flows under the station, and the supporting soil beneath the rear parking lot has finally washed away after years of the tide moving in and out. That doesn’t factor in the decomposition of organic materials, Etheridge said.

Sinkholes “just randomly open up,” he said.

He told the city’s finance committee that the department began talking with engineers on a long-term solution in the last year, “before we actually lose a vehicle. The fire engines are back there vibrating over flowing water, and if we get a sinkhole large enough to damage a fire engine, that would be very disastrous for this community.”

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