Sunday morning, Stewart’s Root beer owner Brad Bennett woke up on his houseboat moored in the marina behind his restaurant along the banks of Tuckerton Creek. He hiked up the short incline to the root beer stand and, looking at the creek as a matter of course, noticed orange gravel pouring into the creek from the spillway there. “I knew there was something wrong, but before I called the police I wanted to see what it was. When I was over by the Grist Mill the sidewalk completely collapsed, and I went down into a sinkhole. The dam there must have broken.”
The sinkhole was 3 to 4 feet wide and 10 feet deep. “There was hardly any traffic on the street, but I was wearing my orange Stewart’s shirt and someone saw me go down,” said Bennett. “He got out of his car and pulled me out while someone else called 911.”
Bennett said he sprained his ankle, bruised his ribs and received cuts and scrapes on his legs, arms and one ear.
The sinkhole caused police to close Route 9 from Water Street to Great Bay Boulevard from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., causing traffic delays throughout the area.
Tim Greeley, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the DOT closed the road as a precautionary measure but had determined there was no danger to the roadway. He said workers were on site Monday trying to assess what has to be done to repair the original spillway, which runs under the Grist Mill building. The DOT plans to lower the lake 2 feet while repairs are made.
“We had a considerable amount of rainfall the week prior to the sinkhole, and whether they will be able to assess if that had any effect or not, I don’t know,” Greeley said. “It’s tough to determine what led to it, but they will be looking at everything.”
The Grist Mill, now the Tuckerton Borough construction office and Office of Emergency Management, was not impacted by the sinkhole, and borough workers were on site and open for business on Monday, said Public Works Supervisor Bob Hewitt.
The original Grist Mill was built in 1704 by Edward Andrews, said Tuckerton Historical Society trustee Barbara Bolton. “Then it went through a number of owners, including the Shourds (family) until the Pharos bought it, and it became the Tuckerton Water Co. in 1898. I don’t know how many times it was restored – at least a couple of times.” The last time was in the early 1990s through a historic grant under Gov. Christy Whitman.
After he was pulled to safety on Sunday, Bennett said he recognized Hewitt’s private pickup in the parking lot at the Wawa and “limped” over to tell him what had happened. “Hewitt did a wonderful job, getting the town alerted,” he said.
Asked if he was thinking of suing the state, Bennett said, “Oh, God, no. I’m just so glad to be alive. These things happen.” Bennett talked to a reporter on Monday, while filling lunchtime orders for hot dogs and icy cold root beer.