Quantcast
Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

North Salt Lake residents 'coping' with loss and fear after landslide

By Morgan Jacobsen, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 6 1:15 p.m. MDT

 People stand near the top of a landslide that destroyed a home near 739 Parkway Drive in North Salt Lake, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.

People stand near the top of a landslide that destroyed a home near 739 Parkway Drive in North Salt Lake, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.

(Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

NORTH SALT LAKE — Early Tuesday morning, David Utrilla's father woke up to a sound that confirmed the fears of the family and the community.

When he looked out a back window, he saw the hill behind his North Salt Lake home moving toward them. He woke the rest of his family, and they all moved out into the street in their pajamas.

Utrilla, who lives in another community, recounted Wednesday what his parents and siblings witnessed:

"Literally, when they ran out of the house, a couple of (my) brothers were moving the cars out of the garage, the whole house basically collapsed behind them," Utrilla said. "It was just a miracle, really, that they came out alive. Because if my father (hadn't woken) up, we'd be having a different type of catastrophe where lives were compromised. So in a way, we feel blessed that their lives were safe."

Utrilla's account was one of the first public responses from the family whose home was destroyed in the landslide. One day after the incident, city officials and community members gathered Wednesday afternoon to discuss the city's tentative plan in moving forward.

Geotechnical engineers with Sky Properties, the site's developer, are waiting for the area to remain dry for 48 hours before beginning studies to model the soil's stability and water content. Once studies are complete, construction plans will be made to excavate the area and lessen the slope of the hill, according to city manager Barry Edwards.

"We're hopeful that within three weeks, we should have construction equipment out there starting to do the remediation," Edwards said. "It's going to take some time once the construction begins. I think we're all aware that the construction season is far spent, and we don't have a lot of time left. So if they don't jump in and get it done, the city will step in and get it done."

Until the ground dries out and stabilizes, officials will refrain from altering the demolished home. When it is deemed safe to do so, the home will be removed in such a way that the some of the Utrilla family's possessions still inside can be collected, according to North Salt Lake Police Chief Craig Black.

Tuesday, the city issued a mitigation plan for the area affected by the slide. The plan states the city will wait for "no movement for several days, no rain for several days" before action on the slide is considered. Material at the bottom of the slope will not be removed, and no heavy equipment is being allowed on the top of the hill.

Although no movement was detected at the site Tuesday night or Wednesday, nearby residents remained skeptical of the neighborhood's safety.

Ty Weston hasn't been back in his home since he and his family left Tuesday morning, even though evacuations were lifted that evening. Weston said he was waiting to see what Wednesday's meeting would bring before considering whether to go back.

"Frankly, I wasn't very impressed," he said. "I felt that what we heard was the developer, who has at least partial responsibility, is the one's they're relying on to tell us what's going on. Not very confidence-inspiring."

Other residents shared Weston's concerns.

"It's completely unpredictable," said Steve Peterson, who lives across the street from the Utrilla's home. "We obviously feel a lot of discomfort. … There's no way we could feel comfortable, but we live here, and it's complicated to just get up and walk away."

Some officials say it's not a matter of if the soil moves again, but when.

"Everything that we're being told is that it is a very high probability that this is going to continue to move," Black said. "But we are confident that as that starts to move, we can give people that are in their homes enough advance notice to be ready to go. As far as when that's going to happen, I don't think any of us have the answer."

Evacuations remained in effect Wednesday for four homes, one of which was never occupied. Residents of the other 24 houses who were allowed back in their homes about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday were told to be ready to evacuate again should the hillside show signs of movement, Black said.

Instability in the hillside was apparent to some residents months before the slide occurred. Geotechnical consultants with the city and Sky Properties attempted to flatten out the slope, but the cracks continued, according to city engineer Paul Ottoson. Officials were in the process of collecting data on the hill's movements when the slide occurred, he said.

Many community members, however, expressed concern that city officials and Sky Properties did not address the hill's instability with needed urgency in the days leading up to the slide.

"They kept assuring, 'No, nothing's going to happen,'" Utrilla said.

City officials maintain that proper procedures were followed in the process of approving the area for development. So far, neither the city nor Sky Properties has claimed liability for the slide.

"Clearly, in my view, they did not do everything that was possible, and that's obvious to anyone who watched the earth move on this mountain for weeks," Peterson said.

In terms of damage to private property, the city is not required to fund repairs, according to North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave.

"The city's not responsible," Arave said. "We have broad exclusions on what the residents are going to have to pay for. And really, this would be something that the residents are going to pay for."

Providing for public safety, however, is another matter.

"The City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to all the (residents) in the city," Edwards said. "I can safely say that if it is determined that we somehow participated in this willingly or unwillingly and are the cause of it and are cited with responsibility for it, we will meet that obligation."

Weston said responsibility for the slide shouldn't lie with any one stakeholder.

"I do believe that there's responsibility from a lot of different parties in this problem, including the homeowners," Weston said. "I think homeowners, when they decide where to live, they weigh the pros and cons. … But I think they do that also under the assumptions that when new development is put in, everything's done in a responsible way."

Although the city declared a state of emergency Tuesday evening, it was unlikely that it would meet the threshold of $1.52 million in damage to public infrastructure to be eligible for assistance from Davis County, according to Davis County Sheriff's deputy and emergency services coordinator Ellis Bruch. State help was even further away with a threshold of $3.8 million in damage to public infrastructure.

Sky Properties was providing housing for the 12 members of Utrilla's family who are now without a home. Utrilla said the family endured debilitating anxiety Tuesday, but for now, "they're just coping."

"The Red Cross has also been very gracious to provide for all the needs that they have. Also, the neighbors providing the clothing," he said. "Unfortunately to say, the city has in no way come up to us to see how we're doing. … I feel like even though they don't have a legal obligation to do that, I believe that they have a moral obligation."

An account at America First Credit Union was opened under Utrilla Family Relief Fund for monetary donations.

email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

Related Stories
Recommended
1. Melanna
Salt Lake City, Utah,
Aug. 6, 2014

Not to be cold, cruel, and heartless - but nevertheless sounding cold, cruel, and heartless - this area has had landslides in the past, you can see the marks of them on the hills. Why were developers allowed to build here and why would people buy these homes? This landslide was not an unforeseen, unexpected event.

I'm sorry for the loss these people experienced, but it could have been avoided.

2. Nan BW
ELder, CO,
Aug. 6, 2014

I agree with Melanna. It fits in with the old adage, "Let the buyer beware." And by all means, be wary of developers, who will plan sub-divisions anywhere a buck is to be made. That may have not happened here, but someone wasn't using good judgment, and now several home-owners have a big dilemma, or a ruined house, in one case. I am sorry for losses too.

3. tabuno
Clearfield, UT,
Aug. 6, 2014

America has made freedom among its top ideals along with less government regulation so that free enterprise can take risks and make money. However, along with freedom comes responsibility, something many Americans have taken for granted. Unfortunately, Americans seem to have less and less time to spend on becoming informed so as to make good decisions. As our society becomes more complex, Americans are going to have to decide how much they can be afford to allow developers and corporations to put profit over the public interest and how much government we need to ensure that the individual doesn't suffer unnecessarily.

4. Johnny Triumph
American Fork, UT,
Aug. 6, 2014

I had previously looked at buying homes in that area and at traverse mt and chose to not buy in either location for this exact reason. The more I looked around the more scared of slides I got.

Best of luck to these people.

5. patriot
Cedar Hills, UT,
Aug. 6, 2014

hopefully homeowners insurance will cover the full replacement cost of the homes ??