MINA - When an unknown force is causing a 7-foot sinkhole, it's time to call in the big shots.
Some time in the spring of 2012, Legislator Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, brought his boat to the Findley Lake Marina to be serviced. While he was there, the owner of the marina asked Croscut if he was aware of a sinkhole near the lake.
"At that time, they knew they had a problem, because the lake was simply not filling up as fast as usual," Croscut said. "They had also developed a sinkhole along the road shoulder, between the road and the sidewalk."
Assemblyman Andy Goodell, left, and Clay Fails, Hill Engineering project engineer, listen as Dennis Brumagin, Findley Lake Watershed Foundation treasurer and retired engineer, discusses the recent sinkhole problem.
Representatives from various area agencies gathered Monday in Findley Lake to determine the best course of action with a sinkhole forming near Findley Lake. Pictured, from left, are: Fred Croscut, county legislator; Dave Wilson, Chautauqua County Soil & Water Conservation; Ron Holcomb, NRCS district conservationist for Chautauqua County Water Quality Task Force; Jeff Diers, Chautauqua County Watershed coordinator; David Himelein, county legislator; state Sen. Cathy Young; and Ed Mulkearn, Findley Lake Watershed Foundation president.
According to Dennis Brumagin, treasurer of the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation, at that time the sinkhole, located on the lake side of Route 426 and Route 430 near the dam, was large enough to put approximately three basketballs into. The hole was filled with stone obtained from the highway supervisor.
"That helped for a year. Then, this year, a second - what we call a sinkhole - was twice as big as the first one," Brumagin said.
At that point, Hill Engineering, out of North East, Pa., was brought in to assess the problem. Additionally, the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation requested $40,000 in bed tax funding from the county legislature, which was denied.
"I am checking to see if there is any emergency funding available that could help. However, we do not have a definite idea of what steps need to be taken and how much the project will cost. Once these details crystallize, we can take action."
The dam was originally built sometime between 1811 and 1815, according to records. It was then rebuilt around 1910 or 1911.
"At that time, the technology was - you did these things with timbers and earthen, compacted dirt and some concrete added," he said. "So, now at least we're dealing with a 200-year-old dam that was rebuilt 100 years ago, and it's had tender loving care over the years with a few minor upgrades."
The dam is privately owned by the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation, with a state road going over it. It is also a truck route for large trucks rerouted off Interstate 86.
Although there is a team working to assess the problem, it is still unclear what is causing the sinkhole. Hill Engineering has determined the dam is not a safety hazard, and the wall of the dam is not leaking. However, one theory is that water is getting under the wall. Brumagin said the sidewalk above it also sounds hollow and is currently closed to the public.
On Monday, a special meeting was called in Findley Lake for groups to come together to evaluate and learn about the sinkhole situation and work together to find a solution.
"I, through my years of experience, knew that we had to get other people involved," Croscut said. "So, we called (state) Sen. Young, (Assemblyman) Andy Goodell, I talked with the state of New York people, Sen. Young had people from the state there. We had people from the Soil & Water Board there, we had people from Hill, we had the county executive, people from Tom Reed's office, and last Monday morning we had a meeting in Findley Lake. The best way to solve these problems is to get people together and discuss it, rather than spend so much time and not get anything accomplished."
Brumagin emphasized the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation wants to fix the sinkhole before it becomes an even bigger problem. The biggest issue is, the group does not currently have the amount of funding necessary, and it feels it cannot wait to raise the money.
Croscut said he is working to get money to help with the research of what the problem is, identify the problem and address how to solve it.
"We do not want to have a lake with no water in it, which would be the worst-case scenario," he said. "We do not want all that lake water to wash out the road - that would be (another) worst-case scenario. But, we need to identify the problem. I personally think the state has stepped up, at least helping us with blueprints, with the OK to go in there and do some possible excavation when the lake level comes down to see how much it's undermined, and is the road undermined? The state will be doing an inspection there in the next two weeks. They always do, every couple years."
Croscut is hoping to present his case to two legislative committees next month, to provide statistics and data in the hopes of securing some reserve 2 percent bed tax funding, which is set aside for emergencies. He is hoping to receive $5,000 to $6,000 from the county in order to help with the sinkhole.
"Any time you can get seed money from, say, the county with my help and (Legislator) Dave Himelein's help, you also may get some money from Sen. Young or whoever, with the help of Sen. Young and Andy Goodell saying, 'Listen, these people are stepping up, and the Findley Lake Association people are already putting into this,'" Croscut said. "It's teamwork. That's what this is all about, getting multiple agencies to cooperate, and that was one of the goals of my meeting was getting some intermunicipal agreements, because you've got township involved, you've got the Findley Lake Homeowner's Association involved, and you've got the town of Mina, the county and some help from the state."
Goodell said he has already sent the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation a number of suggestions on how to remedy the problem. Additionally, he said he has already requested a copy of the Department of Transportation's budget.
"From the state's perspective, the state has a responsibility for maintaining the roadway, and for maintaining the sluice pipe that goes under the roadway that drains the water from Findley Lake," Goodell said. "In addition to sending specific ideas on how they might approach identifying the location of the leak and addressing the solution, I have also forwarded to the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation a copy of the DEC guidelines on dam construction. I will be reaching out to the state DOT as well, if they have ideas that might be of help to them. I've also requested that they send me a copy of their full budget, so we can look for ways that we might be able to assist them financially."
Young, too, said she is doing her part to help remedy the situation, although she said there is no definite idea of what needs to be done.
"It is very concerning to see and hear about the sinkhole," Young said. "It is a safety issue and threatens the lake. I am working closely with state agencies, local officials and Assemblyman Andy Goodell to pinpoint the cause and find the best solution. Right now, I am checking to see if there is any emergency funding available that could help. However, we do not have a definite idea of what steps need to be taken and how much the project will cost. Once these details crystallize, we can take action."
Reed's office could not be reached for comment.