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John Hollenhorst reportingImagine having to sit through a whole lot of earthquakes -- 2,773 of them in just three weeks! That's what residents of an old mining town say they had to endure, because of a government project, which had to be shut down because of their complaints.
One summer day in this neighborhood, something unusual started without warning.
Esther Shafe, of Rock Springs, said, "The house, it would jump, and I would also vibrate."
Becky Kelley says, "My whole house shook. It was continuous shaking."
One resident caught home video of the cause: giant cranes repeatedly dropping enormous weights, one of them 23 tons, the other 26.
"One after another, two weights at a time. Boom! Boom! Boom!" Shafe said.
Kelley said, "And it bounced my son out of the bed. And my son's like 210!"
Then they noticed buckling and cracking in walls and driveways. "A hairline crack, it was tiny and then it has continued to get wider each day," Kelley said.
Some are claiming structural damage, such as bulges in a bedroom wall. Shafe says, "We're scared that it's going to go this way and fall onto us when we're sleeping."
The pounding was a government project to collapse abandoned mines. The Mayor says old coal mines undercut three-fourths of Rock Springs. The city has been haunted for decades by shifting, subsidence and sinkholes.
Timothy Kaumo, mayor of Rock Springs, said, "If we weren't doing mitigation, the effects on the town would be disastrous."
The so-called "dynamic compaction" was intended to smash and mash underground voids. It was done near an existing neighborhood to stabilize vacant land for critically-needed new housing.
Todd Parfitt, with the Wyoming Dept. of Environmental Quality, said, "It is a more economical method to use, a little bit quicker than using mass excavation."
Engineering studies predicted no damage to nearby homes.
However, Mayor Kaumo says, "I think there are some legitimate complaints, that dynamic compaction did cause some damage."
After enough complaints poured in from homeowners, the pounding project was abandoned and they began digging their way down to the old mines. Excavated mine tunnels will be backfilled with dirt. They're also drilling in neighborhoods. Many mine tunnels will be filled with grout, a costly process.
The state promises to help homeowners with insurance for future damage. "We've said we'll take care of the premium for two years," Parfitt said.
They'll pay for existing damage from the pounding, too.
However, Parfitt adds, "I don't think this is a chance for an open checkbook. And we have claims that are occurring that are half mile, three quarters of a mile away and make no sense whatsoever." Residents fear they won't get fully compensated. "We should have known about this before it ever took place. They should have offered us insurance before that. And they should have taken pictures of our homes before this happened," Kelley said.
Government officials admit someone dropped the ball before they started dropping weights. Homeowners should have been notified; pre-inspections should have been done. The result is a project that will take much longer and will likely eat up lots more tax dollars.