Repairs underway after ES tunnel collapses on Main Street

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
A crew from Jimmy Jones Excavation works to repair a large hole created by a collapsed tunnel in downtown Eureka Springs.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

A popular parking lot in downtown Eureka Springs is temporarily out of commission after a tunnel collapsed earlier this month.

John Cross, who owns the parking lot, said he heard about the collapse at 5:15 p.m. Friday, June 1. When it first appeared, Cross said, the hole was about the size of a washtub. As of June 6, Cross said, the hole was about 66 by 40 feet and 25 to 30 feet deep. Cross remembered when he first saw the collapse, saying it was larger than you’d think.

“You could look in there and see that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Cross said. “It was big, and it was a safety hazard.”

By June 4, Cross said, he got a construction crew working to repair the hole. He’ll know more about the repairs as construction continues, Cross said.

“I know it’s going to be very expensive, and I doubt the city will help me,” Cross said.

The parking lot is on his private property, Cross said, but it’s located over a city storm sewer.

“There’s no argument. It’s a city storm sewer,” Cross said.

Mayor Butch Berry said it’s not the city’s responsibility to fix the hole.

“It’s not our property,” Berry said.

The reason the tunnel collapsed, Berry said, is because of the way early residents filled in gullies to build parking lots or structures. There are many gullies and valleys in Eureka Springs, Berry said, that aren’t filled in properly. He explained how to properly fill a gully, saying you must use the right material and compact it down every six inches.

“When you fill a valley with tires, cars, refrigerators, horseshoes … over a period of time, as the water seeps down over the ground, you’re going to have soil moving away from that area,” Berry said. “It’s never been compacted. What you have is the earth settling.”

Cross said his grandfather built the courthouse downtown, when it was surrounded by creeks.

“When they filled it in, they didn’t fill it in today like we do with clay and rocks,” Cross said. “They filled it with mattresses, bottles … anything they could get their hands on to put in there, and of course a lot of it rotted out.”

Cross said he purchased the parking lot in 1977, saying several lots were included on one deed. That doesn’t include the storm sewer, Cross said.

“We know who built the buildings, but we don’t know if they built the storm sewer,” Cross said. “I call it the city storm sewer, and that’s exactly what it is.”

Cross is no stranger to repairing a collapsed tunnel. He said this is the fifth time he’s faced this problem, saying the first cave-in happened 10 to 15 years ago. Carroll County Judge Sam Barr helped repair the fourth collapse, Cross said, right next to the courthouse.

“The city didn’t even fix that,” Cross said.

Public works director Dwayne Allen said the city is doing its best to help, but it is Cross’ property.

“We’re doing everything we can. It’s private property, so legally, we can’t work in there,” Allen said. “We’re going to do everything legally we can, but there are some things we can’t do.”

Cross thanked Allen for his help and said he is working to repair the hole immediately.

“I can’t sit around and wait for the city council to meet to see what they’re going to do with it,” Cross said.

With so many collapses over the years, Cross said, he’s concerned about what might happen in case of a flood.

“It’s not only a public safety issue. It’s a flood issue,” Cross said. “It’s collapsed, which means if we get a hard rain … water’s got to go someplace, and it’s going to go to Mud Street and the lower part of the courthouse where the water department is.”

He continued, “Then, it will be a water department. The mayor will start to come around when the water starts rising above his socks.”

In the meantime, Cross said, he’s focused on repairing the parking lot. His construction crew is working constantly, Cross said, even on Saturdays. Cross said he’s grateful to his construction crew, Allen and the Eureka Springs Police Department.

“Everyone has been very helpful, so I’m getting a lot of help whether I get any money from the city,” Cross said. “We’re not sure how much it’s going to cost yet, either. That’s just one of the luxuries of owning property.”

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