NILES - Oma Whitt made a discovery two weeks ago while monitoring her two young children playing nearby.
Between the street and the sidewalk along Hyde Avenue, she noticed what appeared to be a sinkhole.
"I called 911 and they made a report on it," Whitt said.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
A sinkhole has formed along Hyde Avenue in Niles during the past several weeks. James Buckley, 20, of Howland, looks into the hole, which city officials say is between 7 and 9 feet deep.
Over the past week, the hole has increased in size to about 2 feet in width, stretching about 8 feet into the ground.
"When we got this second rain the other day, I believe that kind of made the hole worse and pushed it over the edge a little bit," Whitt said. "I've run children off of it when I see them get close."
Sinkholes are cavities in the ground most commonly occurring in limestone formations and usually caused by water erosion over a long period of time.
In the last several days, the city has responded by covering the hole with a piece of plywood and marking the area with a cone, but officials say the onus for fixing the problem lies with the property owner.
Niles Engineering and Grant Development Coordinator, Mark Hess, said a test conducted on the hole last week traced the problem back to a sanitary sewer pipe at the residence of 318 Hyde Avenue.
"It turned out to be a problem coming from the lateral line from the house to the sewer," Hess said. "We've spoken to the property owners and they're in the process of hiring contractors to take care of it. They usually cost a few thousand dollars to fix."
If the sinkhole is not taken care of in a timely manner, city officials said they may choose to fix the hole and then charge the homeowner on a city utility bill.
"We can do it that way if it is not taken care of," Hess said.
Barry Steffy, who lives along West Third Street in Niles, said he was charged by the city approximately $3,000 for a sinkhole on his property in 2012.
"They told me pretty much the same thing," Steffy said. "It came from a lateral sewer line and it was my responsibility."
After six months of no action, the city fixed the hole. He has been paying $100 a month since November as a result.
"They say I'm down to about $1,800 left to be paid."
While neighbors along Hyde Avenue wait for the sinkhole to be fixed, they hope the sinkhole will not get any bigger or create other issues for property owners.
Jim Sylvia, who rents the home at 318 Hyde Avenue, said his eyes are constantly on the area around the hole to make sure people do not go near it.
"It's very dangerous," Sylvia said. "Especially for the little kids, who are all up and down this street, they want to play with it."
In addition, city officials said they have a responsibility to make sure the danger is minimized until contractors can fix the problem.
"We'll keep tabs on it to make sure it is covered and that kind of thing," Hess said. "We definitely don't want anyone getting hurt there."