Heavy equipment started rolling onto the scene last week of a massive sinkhole that has caved in part of a county road and threatened to swallow more property in an industrial area off South Cobb Parkway south of Smyrna.
The problem began on the property of R.F. Knox Company Inc., an industrial sheet metal fabricator which will be celebrating its 100th year in business in 2014.
The site, at 4865 Martin Court in the South Cobb Industrial Park near Interstate 75, is now the scene of a crater about 25 to 30 feet deep and 125 feet in diameter.
Evidence of a sinkhole problem began to show up years ago, but the cracks and movements became a full-fledged sinkhole in the spring of 2012, according to Jack Knox, R.R. Knox president and fourth-generation owner.
“We do have a lawsuit against the county on this,” Knox confirmed. “We put the county on notice in April 2012 and in January-February of this year we filed suit.”
Among the issues apparently still to be resolved is who is responsible for the underlying cause of the problem. An old, galvanized-steel pipe that was installed in 1971 or 1972 and has rusted over time is the likely culprit. The 60-inch storm water pipe was buried 20 feet underground.
“It’s a 42- or 43-year-old pipe that has simply rusted out and collapsed,” Knox said. “It was just thin-wall pipe, and this has been slowly happening over time.”
Knox said he took over leadership of the company from his father, Fred Knox, when he retired in 2007.
“Since 2000 he had been dealing with this and other sinkholes,” Jack Knox said.
He said the county has been cooperative since the lawsuit was filed in early 2013.
But county spokesman Robert Quigley said the county only got involved because of the emergency situation on Martin Court, a county maintained road. He said the county is in no way accepting responsibility for the sinkhole.
“The sinkhole started on plaintiff’s property and has now spread into the right of way and road (our property),” Quigley said via email Friday. “It is the county’s position, as spelled out in our ordinance, that all commercial and industrial properties are to maintain their own stormwater facilities. To my knowledge we have consistently required this of all commercial and industrial property owners. Plaintiff has failed to do that, and now we were left with no choice but to step in because of plaintiff’s failure to maintain its facilities is adversely impacting our road and public safety and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Quigley said the county will undertake an “emergency temporary repair” but will then be looking to R.F. Knox to reimburse its costs “for anything which is plaintiff’s legal responsibility.”
Quigley said that the county's costs to fix the hole are estimated at $250,000.
But Knox said he is satisfied with the county’s response to his company’s lawsuit and doesn’t anticipate any additional friction between the two parties. He said that, as far as he is concerned, the county has accepted responsibility for its share of the problem.
“They have mobilized and are fixing the problem,” he said. “Two other companies needed this road to get out of their facilities. It was a desperate situation but the county has stepped up. Fortunately, we have two ways we can access our building and one of them was taken out completely by the sinkhole.”
R.F. Knox Co. is a fourth-generation family owned business founded in 1914 by Jack Knox’s great grandfather, R.F. Knox. About 85 percent of its business now consists of making HVAC ducts for commercial buildings. It has about 150 employees.
“We won’t let anything like this to stop us from reaching our 100th anniversary,” Jack Knox said.