COMMERCE - A sink hole has opened up on land once proposed for recreational use by the City of Commerce and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
The hole, which as of late Tuesday morning was an estimated to be 20 feet in diameter, is expected to slide further into the workings of what was the New State Mine, according to Ed Keheley.
Keheley, a retired engineer, is familiar with the mine workings in northeast Oklahoma after having spent hundreds of hours documenting collapses and archiving the area's historic mining maps. He and Ken Luza, a geologist with the state of Oklahoma, examined the cave-in Tuesday.
“This is a new collapse that appears to be at the southeast end of an underground mine collapse that occurred many years ago, but did not reach the surface,” Keheley said. “It may be the result of continued caving of the disturbed roof area in the mine. Based on the rings of curvi-linear cracks around the present collapse, the collapse will most likely grow in size over the next few days and weeks.”
The cracks which bend around the perimeter of the hole can be seen as far a 40 feet outside of the collapsed area currently partitioned with a bright orange temporary fence.
Earlier this year, Commerce workers finished a 26-acre reclamation project at the site that sits just west of Commerce High School and across the street from a residential area.
City officials say there was never any intention to allow soccer - or any recreational activities - to be played at the site.
However, according to bid specs and the project plans obtained by the News-Record, the scope of the project included plans for two soccer fields and 18 inches of top soil for a playing surface.
Per council approval, the city later entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to complete the “Southeast Commerce Tar Creek Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project.” At that time, Joe Crawford, the city's public works director, and then mayor John Crawford signed off on the $374,343.26 plan which proposed the construction of the fields above two large mine collapses and several abandoned mine shafts.
According to the conservation commission, funding for the project comes from federal dollars intended for use in the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek - money that could have been redirected to the buyout of residents living within the Tar Creek Superfund site but was retained for use at the Commerce site.
“Why do we have to keep wasting good money to convince politicians and state and federal bureaucrats that formerly mined areas should not be used for public use facilities,” Keheley said. “The Bureau of Mines warned the area about this in the 1960's … Do the taxpayers get a rebate on the project since it was a failure?”
Change orders have since brought the total project cost to $503,765.47 and Joe Crawford has resigned his post, as has his assistant director.
Chuck Nuttle, project inspector, is expected to travel to Commerce today to view the site.
“Obviously, we will fix the subsidence and develop a plan to remedy the situation,” Nuttle said Tuesday in a statement relayed to the News-Record through a conservation commission spokesperson.
Calls to Mike Furnace, who worked on the reclamation site has stepped into an administrative role at the City of Commerce since the departure of Joe Crawford, did not return phone calls to the News-Record Tuesday.
Erik Johnson, Commerce city attorney, said that city had no intention of doing anything that would cause harm to the public, will not be allowing any recreational activity or public parking at the reclamation site and plans to meet with conservation commission officials today to find out how the situation can be resolved.