Lake’s vanishing is no act

The lake left residents baffled at its sudden disappearance.
Sunday, June 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:05 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

WILDWOOD — To Donna Ripp, it’s nothing but freaky — millions of gallons of the manmade, 23-acre lake vanish, swallowed up by a sinkhole in a matter of days like a plug pulled from a filled bathtub.

Left to question is whether property values of folks who paid good money in this affluent St. Louis suburb for a lakeside view went down the drain as well.

What had been a manmade oasis for waterfowl and sailboaters by Friday was nothing but a muddy, crackled pit outlined by dead fish, already rotting in the swelter. At one end of the crater, there’s a crack, 50 feet wide.

“Everybody and his brother have been out here walking and just can’t believe it,” lamented 74-year-old George English, standing next to wife, Betty, and the “lakeside” condominium they bought in 1996 for its view.

Some residents say they noticed that the lake’s water levels, after being swelled by torrential rains weeks earlier, began falling noticeably last weekend. The Englishes say they noticed the drop-off Monday. By Wednesday, the lake — 10 feet deep in spots — had been reduced to a mucky mess and a lot of stench.

David Taylor, a geologist who inspected the lake bed Wednesday, said the sinkhole probably was caused by water built up from recent thunderstorms.

Taylor said porous limestone in Missouri’s topography cracks and dissolves when saturated with water, and underground pockets are carved when water breaks down the limestone bedrock over time. The spaces can lead to the bedrock’s collapse — and a sinkhole.

Because the lake is private property, the subdivision’s residents will have to pay the tab of fixing it, likely through special property assessments that George English expects could be $1,000 a household.

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