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 Post subject: Ringwood: Ringwood sinkhole near area where boy disappeared
PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2007 12:17 pm 
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Location: Above the Sterling Hill Mine
Ringwood sinkhole near area where boy disappeared
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Thursday, January 18, 2007


Another sinkhole -- this one life-threatening -- has opened in Upper Ringwood's ancient mining neighborhood. Meanwhile, the community has been waiting more than a month for the state to deliver on a pledge of emergency aid.

At least 30 feet deep, the newest cavity is particularly ominous to neighborhood residents because it is close to where 15-year-old Harry Van Dunk fell into a mine shaft in 1963. He has never been found.

"This is bringing back so many memories of when we lost that young boy -- it's very upsetting," said Vivian Milligan, a neighborhood leader. "People who live near that area are afraid, and we're all sad at the same time."

Long-closed iron mines stretch under the neighborhood of 48 homes on a ridge near Ringwood Manor. The mine shafts also extend beneath part of nearby Ringwood State Park.

Over the past two years, sinkholes of varying depths have opened in yards and under a street, forcing the relocation of 23 people from two houses last fall. The newest hole is within 50 yards of the two houses. The borough says it drops to a mine tunnel.

So far, the state's response to the problem of sinkholes has been methodical: It is assisting borough mine consultants and has provided nearly $500,000 in grants for repair and investigative work. But last month, the community pleaded for a comprehensive state takeover of the crisis.

During a Dec. 5 neighborhood meeting, Debbie Mans, a policy adviser to Governor Corzine, proposed state formation of an emergency team.

"There are so many issues you are dealing with, and we want to make sure you're safe," Mans said.

In a Dec. 18 letter to Corzine, Ringwood Mayor Joanne Atlas asked that the governor declare the neighborhood an emergency disaster area and appoint a disaster coordinator. "The situation is worsening by the day," she wrote. "It is quickly becoming too much for our small community to handle on our own. We desperately stand in need of outside help."

Among issues the coordinator could address, she wrote, are "personal safety, relocation, evacuation, mine and tunnel mapping, remedy selection, emergency compensation and all other issues related to this perilous situation."

Since then, Atlas and state officials have traded phone conversations. But no coordinator, emergency team or money have come to the community.

Brendan Gilfillan, a press aide for Corzine, said Wednesday, "We're reviewing their request and we've been in touch with the mayor and local officials."

Calls to a number of other state officials were not returned, including to Mans and Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Jackson visited the community last year and promised help.

Atlas on Wednesday acknowledged that the great scale of the problems worked against speedy reaction by the state.

"At the state level there are individuals who are working on this problem," she said. "This is an enormously complicated issue that demands enormous resources. It may take some time. I don't think it can be sorted out by the governor, the governor's staff or by us in short order."

The next step is seismic testing to determine just what is under the neighborhood, said Ken Hetrick, the borough manager. But, he told the Borough Council on Tuesday night, state grant money has been used up, leaving officials wondering if they could tap money from a snow removal account.

The current problem with sinkholes began in 2005, when a 15-foot-deep patch of ground gave way in a yard off Sheehan Drive at the other end of the neighborhood from the new sinkhole. Since then, other holes have opened up, including several that collapsed Sheehan Drive in November and those around the now-evacuated Van Dunk Lane houses.

A state grant of $232,000 has been used to fix sinkholes and a $180,000 transport grant went to repair Sheehan Drive. Some of the funds also went toward moving residents into trailers and rented houses.

Besides the Van Dunk boy's disappearance, residents recall that a home built in the 1970s collapsed several years later into an abyss that suddenly appeared. They are afraid of more such cave-ins.

Rebecca Corter, now living in a temporary home elsewhere in Ringwood, said Wednesday she was told she will never be able to return to the house she grew up in.

"It's really hard to believe this is happening and we can't go back," Corter, 33, said. "My kids keep asking to go home, and it's hard to explain that we can't. I have no idea what we're going to do."


Reprinted with permission from The Record,

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