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Life next to sinkhole the pits for Florida residents


Developer denies responsibility
for toxic waste found under homes

October 23, 1996
Web posted at: 4:30 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Robert Vito

MIRAMAR, Florida (CNN) -- Four months after telling CNN they would "do whatever it takes" to correct problems caused when a buried trash pile became a sinkhole, a Florida construction company apparently has done nothing to compensate homeowners affected by the watery pit in front of their homes.

The football field-size sinkhole began opening last March in front of 20 houses in the Hampshire Homes subdivision of Miramar outside Miami. At the insistence of Broward County officials, builder Lennar Homes returned to the site and began removing mangled tires, twisted pieces of metal and other debris from the pit.


In all, Lennar excavated 250 truckloads of trash and construction debris, but admitted no wrong-doing.

In a story that aired on CNN last June, Christine Barney, a spokeswoman for Lennar, reassured homeowners, who were concerned about their property values, that they had nothing to worry about.

"We are here and ready to do whatever it takes to fix their problem," Barney said in June, including buying back the residents' homes.


Lennar refused comment for this story, but homeowners in the 307-unit subdivision told CNN this month that there is still plenty to worry about. And, residents say, they ran into a brick wall trying to get Lennar to buy back their homes.

"They would not come forward and say 'give us your keys, here's your check and here is your settlement,'" said homeowner William Holterby.

And the sinkhole is not the whole of the problem. When the first dump site was discovered, residents immediately suspected that more trash was buried in the subdivision -- and they were right.

A second dump site was discovered a few weeks ago by engineers hired by attorneys for the homeowners. Conducting ground-penetrating radar tests, the engineers discovered a pit containing dishwashers, toasters and "all kinds of stuff," said Dave Hewitt of Subsurface Detection Investigations.


The state of Florida says the dumps are legal as long as the materials are non-toxic -- but tires and other items found in both dumps are considered toxic by state regulations. Lennar admits to burying construction debris at Hampshire Homes, but says it doesn't know how the toxic debris ended up in the pits.

Florida's attorney general's office has stepped into the dispute, ordering Lennar to surrender all documents relating to homeowner complaints about sinkholes, trash pits and buried debris at building sites it has developed since 1980.

Lennar Homes says it has nothing to hide and is fully cooperating in the investigation.

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