It's been nearly one month since the first veteran was buried at the new East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, located in East Knoxville. State Veterans Affairs officials had planned an official dedication for the grounds for October 28, 2011. However, that ceremony has been indefinitely post-poned because two sinkholes have opened up on the property.
"It hasn't disrupted our burials. We don't anticipate that it will. Everything's going on as usual," said Donald Smith, Assistant Commissioner of Veterans Affairs.
Smith said cemetery crews found the first hole about three weeks ago. It is located on the left side of the property, and is near the main drainage pipe for the cemetery. The second hole opened up last week in an island that divides part of the road through the grounds. Neither hole is in an area where graves would eventually be located.
"The idea is to be proactive and get ahead of them and take care of the problem," said Smith.
State engineers are expected at the cemetery next week to look at the holes, assess the site, and decide if further land testing is needed.
Pat Mulligan, a geologist with QE2 in Knoxville, looked at the holes on Thursday afternoon. His firm did the initial environmental assessment on the property a couple of years ago. He said the state does not require testing for sinkholes on land designated for uses like cemeteries.
Mulligan thinks the first hole, near the drainage pipe, might not be a sinkhole. It is about 20 feet in diameter, but has not fallen in completely.
"There's a lot of water moving through here. So, this sluffing might be the result of construction activities," said Mulligan.
He said the second hole, on the island, is a sink hole. Dirt has fallen about 6 feet into a five foot wide hole in this spot.
"You can see the brown topsoil over the limestone," he explained.
Mulligan said land where 30 veterans are already laid to rest in the new cemetery does not show signs of failure on the surface.
"However, I know that we're on a limestone formation and those kind of feature formations could be occurring on the sub-surface without us really knowing," explained Mulligan.
East Tennessee is known for its limestone formations, and Mulligan said there is really no way to tell if and when more holes will fall in the cemetery without more testing.
As the cemetery waits to find out from state engineers what comes next, they must also wait to re-schedule the cemetery's official dedication ceremony.