An 80-foot wide sinkhole developed along Scott Lake Road Friday. | Courtesy Polk County

A sinkhole opened up on private property at the corner of Aiden Lane and Scott Lake Road on Thursday, threatening homes in the Marina Cove subdivision.

The sinkhole, initially 75 feet in diameter, has grown to about 80 feet wide and continues to expand, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ben Cassista said.

There is no property damage at this time, but four homes are currently on evacuation standby and officials have closed Scott Lake Road between Fitzgerald Road and Old Scott Lake Road until further notice. Drivers are encouraged to avoid the area.

Heather Roberts, 48, and her neighbor Alyssia Totten have lived in Marina Cove since 2001 and 2007, respectively, and said that was the last time anyone has moved into the small enclave, with a tennis court, dock and boat slips across Scott Lake Road on the lake.

Roberts, a private investigator, said she was at home on Thursday when she heard what sounded like a sonic boom sometime between 1 and 2 p.m. and texted her husband, who was not at home, to find out if he had heard it, too. He had not.

Officials received a call about the sinkhole just before 1 p.m. Friday. It was 75 feet wide at that time, but has since grown, swallowing a tall coconut palm along with much of a dry pond used for drainage. The dry pond was built and land near it cleared in the last year, as part of the construction of six homes on Aiden Lane, each on one and a quarter acres.

In a news release, Polk County’s Emergency Management Division reported: “A private enterprise hired by a property owner, drilling across the private drive, hit a pressurized pocket, causing the collapse. The property owners are on-site assessing the situation.”

“I’m concerned absolutely for safety and property values,” Roberts said.

Her home, and the three others on evacuation standby, back up to a creek that runs along the south end of the neighborhood.  The sinkhole is on the other side of the creek and a line of vegetation.  Roberts attended a 3:30 p.m. press conference.  Between the time she left her home and the time she returned, the sinkhole had grown.

“Before I went to the press conference, there was a palm tree here and now the palm tree is gone,” Roberts said. “It’s a wait-and-see on where (the sinkhole) is going to grow.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd looks at drone footage of a sinkhole. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Judd, who viewed drone footage from the back of a truck parked along Scott Lake Road, said there is an underground cavern that backs up to the Marina Cove neighborhood.

“It’s still crumbling,” Judd remarked, as he watched the drone’s video feed.

Polk County Engineer Jay Jarvis, director of roads and drainage, said the recent drought, followed by heavy rains, contributed to the sinkhole’s formation.  The Florida aquifer runs through two levels of limestone. The drought pulled the aquifer’s water level down, creating a hollow area, then heavy rains sat on top of the limestone rock.

In addition, Jarvis said the developer had drilled a well. At about 180 feet, they hit the hard limestone layer and then beyond that, there was a void for another 120 feet.

“Then they said they started seeing depressions start to occur and we assume that those two (events) are somehow connected,” Jarvis said.  The drilling “basically created the void that then allowed material above it to start breaking through that dividing layer. And that’s what a sinkhole is — somehow there’s a fracture of some sort and that dividing layer allows material to go through until it stabilizes itself.”

Jarvis said they are going to try to stabilize the hole by creating a column underneath it to close it off and then pouring backfill into the hole to seal it.

The road is not under imminent threat to collapse into the sinkhole, but they don’t want to take any chances.

“Because of the traffic running the roadway and what vibration can do to a sinkhole — it can cause it to collapse further — we did agree to close the road down,” Jarvis said, adding that it would remain closed “until we fill it and it’s stabilized.” 

The hole is very close to an area where a sinkhole developed on June 15, 2006 and drained the lake over a period of 10 days leaving it dry by June 24, 2006. The shoreline receded at a rate of about 5 feet per day.

At the time, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials estimated that 800,000 pounds of fish died as a result. It was more than 10 years before the lake was refilled to its previous level.

Polk County is no stranger to sinkholes, with at least 243 confirmed events between 1954 and 2023. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection website explains the state is divided into 4 zones, based on the depth and solidity of the soil cover and the likelihood of sinkholes.

Lakeland and the surrounding communities are considered to be Area 3, in which sinkholes are most numerous and tend to develop abruptly. The most common type is “cover-collapse sinkholes.”

Sinkholes can happen any time of year, but they are most likely to occur when a drought is followed by heavy rain. 

Those are exactly the conditions Central Florida has experienced over the past several months, with only 2.72 inches of rain falling in the first three months of the year – about 6 inches less than normal – followed by 10.78 inches of rain from April 1 through Friday.

A LkldNow analysis found that June is the most active month for sinkholes in Polk County, with 47 of the 243 confirmed “subsidence events” from 1954 to present happening in June.

November is the least active month.

Sinkholes often cause property damage, such as a hole that was 40 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 35 feet deep that opened on May 10, 1976, at the present-day intersection of Memorial Boulevard and N. Lake Parker Avenue.

Another sinkhole appeared the following day, May 11, 1976, at Ingraham and Memorial. It was 80 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 25 feet deep.

Deadly sinkholes are much rarer, but there have been at least six deaths from sinkholes in Florida history. Among them, Seffner resident Jeffrey Bush was killed in February 2013 when a sinkhole opened below his bedroom around 11 p.m. while he was sleeping. His home collapsed, plummeting 20 feet underground. His body was never recovered.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She worked for the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel and spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow.

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