Is Georgetown water tower safe from sinkholes?

Water tower near Georgetown city hall that may be renovated if the ground underneath is sturdy (Dave MacQueen/WCIV)

By Sonya

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WCIV) -- One of Georgetown's water towers remains empty after the sinkholes in late 2011. Now the question is whether it is safe to refill it or whether a new one should be built.

It looks like a normal water tower, but what you can't see from the outside is that it's empty.

"It has come to our attention that there are some voids underneath the water tower by city hall," said Mayor Jack Scoville of Georgetown. "They are approximately 45 feet down and are about two feet wide. We do not know if they are going to cause any problems at all."

Voids, or empty spaces underground, have the potential to lead to sinkholes. Just to be safe, engineers continue to run tests.

"They identify them through ground imaging machines, sound waves or radar, fire down into the ground and it bounces back and give you an idea of what is down there," said Scoville.

Scoville is hoping to get a definitive answer within a month. If the voids below are not problematic, then the city has money in the budget to renovate the tower by city hall and the one at the bottom of the Rosen bridge -- both which are approximately 60 years old.

"It's not just a matter of going out there with a paint brush and a bucket of paint and slapping pain on there," said Scoville. "They are going to have to be cleaned both inside and outside, special paint, materials have to be used on the inside of the tank and it's very expensive. $200,000 or $300,000 -- even $400,000 per tank."

But if the ground underneath isn't steady then the city will have to look at another option.

"It may behoove the city to just build a new tank somewhere else and get rid of the two old tanks," said Scoville. "It may cost more in the short run, but probably in the long run it would be more advantageous. I'm sure we could find a location if we go to one tank that is more efficient plus presents a better view of the city."

A new tank could cost over $1 million. The city already had money set aside for renovations, which could be used and then the extra could come from the reserve, a bond, or grants.

The new reservoir is almost complete and should be finalized in the next few months. The main thing left is the landscaping of that reservoir around city hall.

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