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Residents fear mine causing houses to sink

Thurman Hitchcock took a look at his home on South Eleventh Street the other day, and his heart sank.

Running around the corner and along one wall on the exterior was a brand new crack, about an inch high in some places.

"The crack wasn’t there a week ago," Thurman Hitchcock said. "It’s new."

Hitchcock and his wife, Frankie often compare stories with their neighbors who all have the same problem: their homes are coming apart, literally, and sinking.

They fear the earth is shifting under their neighborhood because of the long abandoned mines emanating from the old Alpha Portland cement plant, mines they think probably run under their neighborhood.

"I’ve been told there are mines running all the way to the river," Thurman Hitchcock said. "On paper it looks like they stop before they get to our street, but I don’t think so."

"Way back then, they didn’t keep track of the mines like they would now," Frankie Hitchcock said.

There’s one crack big enough to engulf part of a hand: the Hitchcocks’ porch is coming apart from the rest of the house. There are cracks inside and out. One contractor who inspected the damage told the couple it would cost $15,000 to repair the damage.

They are reluctant to spend the money. A neighbor had repairs done, only to have the same problems crop up again.

Next door, Rosalee Sands has the same story to tell. Her front porch is coming apart, her front door frame is twisting, her door doesn’t fit anymore and there’s a noticeable crack above one corner of the door, where it doesn’t come close to meeting the frame anymore.

"When it rains, the water comes in over the door and drips down the door to my rug," Sands said. "I lay in bed at night and wonder what else is going to happen."

She shuddered when she told how a neighbor’s basement wall caved in. "I’m going to have to do something or I’m going to lose my house."

All along a three block area, Ironton residents are watching their homes and their neighbors’ sag and sink. Residents called the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and a representative came and drilled holes in Sands’ front yard.

The EPA concluded the homes are just showing the wear and tear of age. Befuddled by the EPA decision, the Eleventh Street residents turned to the Lawrence County Commission.

The commission agreed to send a letter to the Ohio Department of Mines and Reclamation, asking that the state agency look into the matter.

"I believe the Ohio Department of Mines and Reclamation should take a look," Commissioner George Patterson said. "If it isn’t the cause, then the people need to look at another area."

Ironton city officials have another answer for what might be causing the problems in that area. They say that neighborhood was built in what once was a marshy area. When homes were built, efforts were made to dry out the land.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think this is the result of water draining after a period of time, and the land settling because of it," City Building Officer Karl Wentz said. "There has to be displacement when water leaves and the ground dries out. The ground is real porous because there is nothing to take up where the water was in the soil, so the homes are shifting."

Frankie Hitchcock said she doubts the city officials’ verdict: she said an elderly neighbor, who has one of the older homes on the block, told her that years ago, before most of the houses in the neighborhood were built, her children played in the open fields.

"She said there was no marsh here, no water," Frankie Hitchcock said. She’s waiting to hear what state officials say about the matter.

Meanwhile, the residents hold their breath and drive slowly down Eleventh Street. Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune