Early in 2020, Ed Cook, who was a relatively new Oak Grove resident at the time, presented a safety concern to the Oak Grove City Council regarding a growing sinkhole located behind his property.
A year later, Cook is now a council member himself, but is still battling the sinkhole issue.
With Cook at his “wits end” with the sinkhole and nothing being done by the city to address the issue, Cook may soon be suing the city and the homeowner of the property where the sinkhole is located.
In July of 2019, Cook and his wife bought the property located on 182 Oak Tree Drive in Oak Grove.
When he had bought the property, Cook made sure that he was not responsible for a drainage ditch located behind his property and received a letter stating that the owner of the property behind Cook’s was responsible for the ditch.
Just days after he closed on the home, a storm came through the area and the stormwater created a small sinkhole.
Cook said that he had contacted his real estate agent who told him there was not a sinkhole there, to which Cook said he knew that, but there was one that developed after the storm. The agent advised him to take the issue to the city to get it resolved.
At that point, it was a small hole, but within months had grown to be a big hole that was roughly 100 feet deep.
Cook went to City Hall and complained to Mayor Theresa Jarvis and requested that something be done about the hole, even if it were simply erecting a fence around the hole to prevent anyone from going into the sinkhole.
Cook shared that he was told by the city that the hole was on private property and the city could not do anything regarding the sinkhole because it was not on city-owned property.
Cook was then advised to speak with the owner of the property the sinkhole was located at. Cook said that he sent the property owner a letter through USPS, but it had been returned unsigned.
As Cook had no other avenues of addressing the issue, he brought it to City Council in late February, 2020.
He requested that the city and the council declare the sinkhole an official hazard and explore what could be done to fix the sinkhole or prevent anyone from getting into it.
Cook shared that it was a safety hazard and was afraid that someone would eventually die after falling into the sinkhole.
At that meeting, council members shared Cook’s concerns about someone getting hurt in the sinkhole and told Cook the council would look into the issue.
A short time later, Jarvis provided a letter state that the city could not address the issue and that the city is not allowed to spend public funds for a private purpose and the city has no liability for personal property.
Cook continued to contact the mayor several times requesting that the city at least erect a fence around the hole.
Cook stated that the mayor continues to refuse Cook on helping with the issue.
“The mayor doesn’t — apparently — want to do anything,” Cook said. “She says, ‘Well, it’s private property, we can’t do anything.’ Well there are things we can do on their own property and they’re still refusing, like putting up signage in the area.”
Jarvis shared with the New Era, that the city simply can’t do anything regarding the sinkhole as it lies on private property.
“We were advised by our attorney and everybody that I speak with, that there’s nothing we can do about that sinkhole, because it’s on private property,” Jarvis said. “A gentleman who takes care of stormwater stuff in Christian County and knows a lot about sinkholes, says you’ve just got to leave them alone. They’re very dangerous. They can be fixed, but it can happen where another one can possibly open up in another area.
“If the city gets involved with fixing something like that, then we take responsibility for what happens around it.”
Jarvis shared that while the city can’t address the sinkhole, she does not want anyone to get hurt.
“I feel bad and I hate that I keep hearing these rumours that I don’t care if somebody gets killed, because that’s definitely not the case. I don’t want anything to happen to anybody in there,” Jarvis said. “We’re just hoping that maybe the owner can get his insurance company to come out and take a look at it and maybe get it fixed. It’s on the owner to get it fixed.”
Jarvis added that there are several sinkholes throughout the city and is not something the city can simply fix.
Cook shared that he had also spent several thousand dollars for gravel and concrete curbing to be placed on his side of the property to prevent it from caving in as the sinkhole grows larger.
Cook stated that he also requested the city cite the homeowner on numerous occasions, but was told by the city that it could not find the owner. Cook argues that shouldn’t be possible as someone has to pay the taxes on the property.
“The city attorney Mark Gilbert has said that the owner could be cited under the public nuisance law, but the city has done nothing,” Cook said.
Jarvis shared that she was told by Gilbert that the city could not cite the homeowner under the nuisance law due to the sinkhole being a natural occurrence.
“Our nuisance ordinance does not give us permission to cite for sinkholes — our nuisance ordinance gives us permission to cite for dilapidated buildings and structures, so it does not give us permission to cite for a sinkhole,” Jarvis said. “How would you cite for a natural disaster?”
Cook recently discovered that the property is being managed by Fast Train Management Company out of Clarksville. He spoke with an agent from the company as recent as several weeks ago and advised Cook that the company dropped their client due to the sinkhole, stating that the house is now unavailable for rent due to the hole and its dangers.
He continued to state that the company has tried to contact the homeowner several times, but has not had any phone calls returned.
Cook added that the company had erected a fence around the hole to prevent anyone from falling into it, but the children in the area continue to climb over it and play in the sinkhole.
“It’s very, very dangerous,” Cook said. “I’ve had to chase kids who’ve gone over the plastic fencing to get them away from there, because they don’t understand the dangers. The ground can cave in at any time, which it has.
“Eventually, something is going to happen. Something has to happen.”
Today, it continues to grow and little has been done to alleviate the issue.
Cook said that since he brought the issue to council last year, the size of the hole has tripled.
Now, Cook said, he may sue the city.
“Now I’m going to have to send this to a lawyer and have them come back to me and advise me what to do next,” Cook said. “Whether it’s to sue the city or, possibly also, the landowner.
“Here’s what the real problem is, we’ve got a sinkhole that’s right on the drainage ditch and it’s the stormwater coming from Owen Hunter Court causing the damage. So, you’ve got gallons of water coming from the street and the city is not controlling it.”
Cook shared that if the city continues to refuse to do anything regarding the dangers of the sinkhole, he feels moving to sue the city may be the only way to get the city to take the issue seriously.
“If the city isn’t going to do their part, I think the only way to move them is going to be a lawsuit,” Cook said.