ACentral Point woman who discovered a large sinkhole on the side of her property at Thanksgiving spent Christmas stressing about borrowing money to repair the hole.
After fighting a losing battle with her insurance company, she found out she may now have to deal with state archaeology officials, after some old bottles turned up in the sinkhole.
Lori Etapa discovered what would become a sinkhole 20 feet deep by 15 feet wide on the side of her yard at Maple and North Fifth streets. She spent most of December requesting insurance information that she anticipated would resolve the problem.
She has since learned that insurance won't cover the sinkhole despite what she says appears to be a former root cellar or well that may have caused the ground to collapse.
Etapa said she was told her insurance policy does not cover earthquakes or earth movement. She consulted a lawyer, she said, because earth-movement coverage more typically covers earth movement caused naturally, rather than due to failure of a man-made structure.
Etapa said this week she and her husband were waiting for bank information to determine the least expensive route of borrowing between $2,500 and $4,000 to get rid of the large crater outside her bedroom window.
"One of the contractors wanted $4,000 to fix it. We might try to do it ourselves for a couple thousand," she said.
The hole was filled with ground water, but a search using a fishing net yielded a dozen antique bottles filled with various fluids.
That discovery produced yet another hiccup. Etapa learned that bottles fished from the sinkhole, estimated to be 70 to 80 years old, could fall under state laws on archaeological digs and have to be reported to the state, which would also have authority over when Etapa could fill the hole.
While Etapa considered legal action against her insurance company, she said she felt spending borrowed money to fill the hole was a wiser move than pursuing a lawsuit she may or may not win.
"If we lose, then we would still be out the money to fill the hole," said a frustrated Etapa, noting that, "if someone fell in the hole and broke a leg, my policy would have to cover that!"
"We were told, after many days of waiting, that even if the house had fallen into that hole, it would not have been covered either, all because of how they decide to read our policy."
Etapa's agent for Farmers Insurance, Harry Gerhard, sympathized with his longtime customer but said earthquake coverage, which addresses earth movement, would have helped Etapa deal with the sinkhole.
"Unfortunately this was one of those things that don't fall under the realm of normal homeowners' policies. I don't have the full details of what even happened but the city said it wasn't because of any drainage of water or sewer lines," Gerhard said.
"Sometimes insurance policies and wording can be very confusing. It's frustrating, even as an agent. They were upset there wasn't coverage but at this point the best bet is to protect against any further damage and get that situation stabilized."
Regarding the potential historical significance of finding the old bottles, historian George Kramer said he was surprised that the origin of the hole had not been determined and that state officials had not contacted Etapa.
"If she thinks it's an archaeological site, before she can do anything with it, she has to have a professional archaeologist look at it," said Kramer.
"If there's a chance that it is an archaeological site, she would still own the items she found unless it fell under certain types of items."
Etapa quipped that perhaps the state could examine and repair her sinkhole.
"Heck, let's call the state and see if they want to deal with it for me," she said.
"Maybe we can sell tickets to help pay for filling in the hole, because I have absolutely no money and I never imagined I didn't have insurance that would deal with this."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.