Construction crews are starting the final stages of a construction project that some Georgetown residents blame for creating destructive sinkholes last year.
The Highway 17 Drainage Project is meant to ease flooding in one of Georgetown’s main intersections at Fraser and Front Streets. Once complete, an upgraded system will use larger drains, pipes, and retention ponds to pump stormwater runoff into the nearby Sampit River.
However, work stopped in November when sinkholes suddenly began forming on Fraser. One particular sinkhole destroyed several businesses when it caused the Parrish Place complex to collapse.
South Carolina’s Insurance Reserve Fund is still investigating the case to see if the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is to blame for the collapse. At the time, contractors were draining a nearby retention pond to upgrade the system.
Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville says engineers believe work crews accidentally punctured a layer of limestone when they installed some pilings. As a result, too much groundwater from the surrounding area flowed into the pond and was pumped out. However, it’s not clear if this directly caused the sinkholes to form, as they are also naturally occurring in the region.
“Apparently, every engineer in the Southeast descended on Georgetown for a couple week period there,” Scoville said.
The Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the project, decided to seal off the project area. District Construction Engineer Kyle Berry said they are spending the Labor Day weekend injecting the ground with a chemical grout. “The purpose of that is to completely seal and separate the wet well area and this project from links to the existing groundwater in the area,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Crews will start draining the retention ponds again on Wednesday, if the weather cooperates. Berry said SCDOT hopes to finish the entire project by January– roughly ten months after it originally planned to complete the work.
Some residents are not happy that work is continuing. Several businesses on Fraser Street are worried that the sinkholes could begin forming again. Scoville says he thinks the Department of Transportation has fixed the problem, saying SCDOT has installed a dozen monitor wells to ensure that groundwater levels are not affected.
Scoville said the project needs to be finished soon. He worries that flooding on the critical intersection could one day cause a serious problem if a hurricane or tropical storm forces an evacuation. “It’s a tremendous bottleneck (during evacuations) and if you had a tropical storm beating down… and that intersection got flooded, those people on Waccamaw Neck would have nowhere to go.”
He adds they would have to instead go north through Myrtle Beach, roughly 35 miles the other direction.