Spring Gardening Alert: Beware Sinkholes

cesspool
This isn’t David’s sinkhole, but it’s similar.

Beware, gardeners: After a winter’s heavy rain, your yard could swallow you whole. That was one takeaway from the neighborhood association’s February meeting, where Woodstock neighbor David Nordstrom shared his hair-raising encounter with a sinkhole.

In short, David stepped out in his yard at SE Insley near 60th one evening, felt the ground give way beneath him, and found himself in a slim, brick-lined pit nine feet deep. He escaped serious injury and began an investigation.

The pit turned out to be a cesspool, a popular option for sewage disposal in years gone by. Typically a house’s toilet(s) were piped to it, with the brick lining slowing the absorption of sewage into the soil. David’s house is from 1948, but others at the meeting reported finding similar pits at houses built as late as 1954. A similar kind of vintage pit is a cistern or drywell for rain drainage, like the one responsible for a death in 2010. Either could be covered with wood, then layers of soil. Eventually the wood rots, and then….

David found a permit to fill his pit on file from 2006, before the house was his. The permit’s status, nearly ten years later, was still “under review,” so apparently the work was never completed. David recommended looking up your house on Portland Maps and checking for any incomplete permits. He also recommended City of Portland employee Erin Mick as someone who can guide you through the process of “decommissioning” — that is, filling — any pit you find lurking.

That was last month. Who knows what you’ll learn at the next Woodstock Neighborhood Association meeting: first Wednesday of each month, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Woodstock Community Center (5905 SE 43rd Ave.).