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Rain caused sinkhole in Globe woman’s yard

Property owner believes there is a connection to rumored network of tunnels beneath Globe

Whether a recent sinkhole at a Globe residence was an act of God or the result a tunnel carved by long-ago miners may never be known, but a local woman learned what services are and are not offered to property owners by the city.

When Bonnie Stidman walked into her back yard Jan. 26, she found a gaping 45-foot-deep sinkhole near the gate that leads to her driveway, so she called the Globe Police. They, in turn, called in the Fire Department to the property that is located on Haskins Road above the old Webster House.

 “I don’t know what to do when a hole opens up on my property,” she said, shrugging. “Do you?”

Stidman and her neighbor were issued mandatory evacuation orders by the city of Globe because of the potential for the hole to grow larger and/or become a trap for people and animals. “Our code says homes and properties have to be a safe environment,” City Manager Paul Jepson said. “We had a responsibility to say, ‘this is uninhabitable.’”

The worry, according to Stidman, was that the hole would widen and possibly swallow her and her neighbor’s house, a scenario that is not as unlikely as it sounds. A recent sinkhole created from a broken water main in a neighboring community, Thatcher, was about the size of a sedan. Another broken water main-caused sinkhole in Cheltenham, Penn., in January was large enough to swallow the house directly behind it.

The Globe property owner was also ordered to install a 6-foot fence around the hole within 48 hours or face a fine or a lien on her property. “Now they’re telling me my private property has become a risk to the community,” she said. “I was mad, and I let it be known.”

To add insult to injury, Stidman was told by her insurance company that it would not cover the cost of erecting the fence or filling the hole because the sinkhole was considered an “act of God.”

Stidman said she was not necessarily angry about the lack of help from the city but that it would threaten to “kick me when I’m down.

“What if I had been an 80-year-old woman? What resources would I have?” she asked. “I want this community to be one where elected officials care about what happens to us.”

Jepson said while the city is mandated to regulate the safety of property within the city – whether private or public – it cannot be held responsible for paying for repairs that do not benefit the community as a whole. “What if the rainstorm had damaged a property owner’s roof?” he said. “The city wouldn’t be expected to replace that roof.”

To do so, according to Jepson, would violate the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution, which states, in part, that a governmental agency cannot make payment to a private party unless there is a public purpose.

The hole did not widen in subsequent rains, and, with the help of friends, Stidman was able to erect a fence, which remains in place at this time, and fill in the hole with dirt and chunks of concrete. The fence will stay up, the property owner said, until she is satisfied that the dirt has settled and the hole doesn’t pose a threat to her or her dogs.

What Caused the Sinkhole?

While no direct cause was found for the sinkhole, Stidman believes it must have been a tunnel of some kind. When the hole, which was 45 feet deep, dried out, she said she could see a slab of concrete and what looked like a metal ladder toward the bottom.

Local stories abound about underground tunnels built around the turn of the 20th century by miners, business owners and the Chinese community for various reasons, adding to the mystique of an already history-rich area.

Some believe Chinese business owners built tunnels because they were not allowed outside past curfew, so they used the tunnels to access their businesses on Broad Street. Others tell stories about miners – from Old Dominion and other companies – who carried their gold through the tunnels in an attempt to remain undetected by other miners. The tunnels are also rumored to have been used by men who wanted to visit houses of ill-repute.

Neither the city of Globe nor BHP Billiton were able to locate infrastructure or mine shafts on maps that would directly cause the sinkhole on Stidman’s property.

About Aimee Staten

Aimee Staten has worn several hats over the last few years, but she recently put on one of her more familiar caps after four years of working in nonprofits: That of a journalist. She has 14 years of experience in the news business as a reporter with eight of those years as the managing editor of the Eastern Arizona Courier.

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