Sinkhole in May

A sinkhole in late May on West Poulin Street near Prospect Avenue, temporarily forced closing the road to traffic until repairs were completed. The Missouri Department of Transportation has announced that it is launching a statewide study of the region’s geotechnical assets, including sinkholes, starting with all of Northwest Missouri and northeast Missouri.

Northwest Missouri has been targeted by state officials interested in learning more about geological phenomena such as sinkholes, which have become a bit of a bedevilment.

The Missouri Department of Transportation announced it has initiated a collection of geotechnical assets across the state into 2020 that will cover all of Northwest Missouri in its first phase. Geotechnical assets include sinkholes, landslides, rock slopes and ground improvements such as engineered embankments and retaining walls.

“Each geotechnical asset will be located with a Geographical Information System-based collector, and then data pertaining to each asset will be entered into the system,” said Lydia Brownell, a geotechnical engineer for MoDOT.

Brownell said the agency’s objective is to build a mobile application or cloud-based system to track, analyze and rate the features to allow fund allocations for preventative maintenance and project repairs.

“The overall goal is to have a database of all of our geotechnical assets, past and present, where we can plan for repairs to maintain our transportation system,” she said.

A GIS map of the locations will be drawn to highlight the problem areas.

“We may focus on primary roads at first but eventually will gather across the entire district,” Brownell said. “A lot of our files are old.”

The 20-county region has more rural sectors than other parts of the state and also has fewer issues, she added. Flooding that impacted Northwest Missouri earlier this year had no bearing on the state’s decision to place it in the first phase. Cities will be included in the review.

In St. Joseph recently, the issue relates directly to sinkholes that have appeared as a consequence from some type of man-made activity. One such incident, on West Poulin Street near the intersection with Prospect Avenue, occurred in May and was due to a sewer collapse, said Keven Schneider, the city’s superintendent of streets and infrastructure.

“It’ll either be that or a storm (water pipe) line,” Schneider told News-Press NOW of the specific civic infrastructure involved with the creation of sinkholes. “Sometimes it’ll be like ground water (as a cause). All of a sudden you have a collapse.”

He said no recent landslides have been reported in St. Joseph, although some occurred several years ago in loose soil in the bluffs above McArthur Drive. Schneider said those areas haven’t been checked lately due to the ongoing Blacksnake Creek stormwater improvement project. The area may have stabilized since the slides, he said.

Other sinkholes have been reported in St. Joseph, such as one in September 2018 at Corby Grove Apartments that led to evacuations of residents and another in January 2016 near the 1500 block of North Third Street, when a woman lost her car.

The U.S. Geological Survey lists Missouri as one of the top five states to report property damage due to sinkholes. The survey program has identified approximately 16,000 sinkholes in Missouri, although many more exist that have not been reported or documented. Records are not kept about depth, but some are greater than 100 feet deep, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

County officials told News-Press NOW there have been only sparse incidents of sinkholes in recent years. They also seek a certain congruence among the partner agencies regarding the data with county’s construction projects in mind.

”I think it’s great that they’re updating it,” said Buchanan County Presiding Commissioner Lee Sawyer. “We just want to make sure that it’s coordinated.”

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.