The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declared an emergency repair job at the deep hole that opened up Nov. 15 at a 19th-century abandoned iron ore mine along Old Route 100 in Washington Township, officials said Tuesday.
DEP agents with the bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation have been to the site twice and are evaluating what work is necessary, according to Colleen Connolly, DEP spokeswoman.
Connolly said the bureau is negotiating with a quarry to do the work and fill the hole near Barto Road.
The bureau oversees hazards resulting from mining operations.
The hole, initially about 25 feet wide, has grown several feet wider on the side closest to Old Route 100, according to Rick Sichler, township manager.
It is most likely deeper than 180 feet and filled partially with water, officials said.
Sichler said recent rain is of major concern.
The hole has been cordoned off with an orange mesh safety fence and emergency caution tape. It’s on private property and is highly visible to motorists.
Sichler warned motorists and passersby to stay away from the hole.
He said that so far there has not been a problem with trespassers.
David D. Moyer, chairman of the township supervisors, said the hole is a hazard and it’s getting wider, going uphill on Old Route 100.
“Our number one priority is to protect the safety of our residents,” Moyer said. “We want it fixed as soon as possible.”
Moyer said it rained 2½ inches this weekend, causing the water in the hole to rise within 35 feet of the surface.
“We don’t want people walking around it,” he continued. “Stand back. Don’t go near it. We are trying to be responsible and we don’t want anything to happen to anyone.”
Moyer said immediately after the hole was discovered on Nov. 15 he had it fenced off.
The township supervisor said he informed the landowner that the township’s priority is to ensure the safety of its residents.
Moyer said the last hole that opened up in September 2018 was about half the size.
Sichler noted that in the 1800s, iron mining was a thriving business in Berks, Lehigh, Chester and Lebanon counties.
The hole was discovered early on the morning of Nov. 15 by Eastern Berks Fire Department members.
Stormy weather may have caused the mine shaft to collapse, the township manager said. Accuweather reported wind gusts as high as 63 mph in the area around that time.
John Grubb, 79, who resides on Old Route 100, said he has been tracking mines in the region for years.
"There was a mine underneath the hole," he said.
In the same area in September 2018, an abandoned mine opened up in a wooded area near a housing development. The abandoned mine bureau declared it an emergency. The hole was filled with 816 tons of rock and covered with topsoil.
Sichler said he anticipates the latest hole will be filled with crushed stone.