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NORTH SALT LAKE — On the nine-month anniversary of the landslide in North Salt Lake, the City Council chambers were filled to capacity as city leaders laid out a plan to remediate the damage.
The $2 million plan would cover the cost of stabilizing the hillside and bringing things to a new normal on Parkway Drive. But that price could change after May 24 when the current bid expires, and geologists say the slide is just the right amount of rain away from moving again.
Several fundamental questions were repeated by a long line of residents at Tuesday's meeting: Why hasn't remediation begun? Who should foot the bill for the project? Will the funding become available before the bid expires?
"It's been nine months since anything has been done," said Grant Foster, who lives above the landslide. "This is something that affects all of us. We need to step up to the plate as a city, as a community and get it resolved."
What's been done
Geotechnicians have considered measurements of the hillside before and after the 300,000 cubic yards of earth collapsed, how water drainages have changed and what conditions would be necessary to make the hill safe again.
City leaders originally expected to begin work on the top of the slide during the winter, but they determined it would be more financially feasible to do the entire slide at once, so the project was delayed.
The current plan proposes to grade the hill down to a 2 to 1 slope, roughly a 27-degree angle. This would encroach onto the road above and some utility lines already in place there, but the infrastructure would be adjusted to fit the two lots that are still safe for development. Retaining walls would also be installed at the base of the slope.
"We tried to plan our mitigation so it was aesthetically pleasing, because this is a community that we’re mitigating in and we’re sensitive to the fact that people have to look at this," said Tim Thompson, senior geologist with GeoStrata, which developed the plan. "If we didn’t have houses and a community here, this would be relatively simple to fix."
The city paid $300,000 to develop the plan, and city officials are willing to put forward another $200,000 toward remediation work. But no other parties, including Eaglepointe Development, has made additional offers.
"So far, there hasn't been any other entity that's come forward and offered to pay for any of it yet," said Barry Edwards, North Salt Lake city manager. "We believe it's probably the developer that stands the most to gain by having that hillside fixed. So we would anticipate that they would want to come forward because it's their property that is in a state of not being able to be used."
Scott Kjar, vice president of Eaglepointe Development, issued a statement at Tuesday’s meeting, though he didn’t take questions at the advice of legal counsel because of ongoing litigation with the Eagleridge Tennis and Swim Club that was damaged by the slide.
"Our hope is that together, we can cooperate and find solutions to the problems," Kjar said. "We need to get everybody pulling in the same direction."
Kjar said the developer has so far extended more than $1 million to provide housing for displaced families and to construct a new home for the family whose house was destroyed.
But the developer is still unsatisfied with some parts of the remediation plan and has so far been unwilling to offer financial assistance to remediation while other external parties, such as lenders on other properties, remain uninvolved.
“The current plan does not yet resolve the issues of all the parties, but to this end, Eaglepointe will continue to work closely with the city of North Salt Lake on how to best repair the hillside," Kjar said. "Eaglepointe has and will continue to invest its resources and energies to help affect the repair and the stabilization of the hillside even though it did not cause it to collapse.”
Edwards said the city has involved the developer in the remediation plan for the past “six, seven months,” but it’s unclear why the current plan hasn’t been accepted and why continued delays are necessary.
"There's been no change in their position of being able to come forward with any money, nor have they submitted any changes," Edwards said. "But they were in the meeting for the past six, seven months, and we've taken their input every time. So we're really at a loss."
City leaders said they would be meeting with the developer and other parties this week to discuss the plan and how to fund it.
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, raised the question of whether the city would consider a bond to pay for the remediation and determine later how to distribute the cost. She estimated the bond, which would require a public vote, would cost families $7 per year over a 30-year period.
She said she hopes the city will consider the option and that dialogue with the developer can be open, despite the lawsuit by the tennis club against both the city and the developer.
"My takeaway from this evening is if the focus is really on solutions and where do we go from here, my hope is we will have a positive productivity prognosis in terms of carrying on conversations," Becky Edwards said.
North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a bond, but it’s a heavy burden of liability for the city and its residents to undertake.
"A 30-year bond is a long bond," Arave said. "I think it would be sad and unfortunate if the city bears the entire cost of this."
But even as conversations continue, residents remain uneasy about the 250,000-foot crater looming out their front doors, and for good reason.
"Given its current configuration, it’s just the wrong amount of snow and rain away from moving again," Thompson said. "Our modeling shows it’s not a catastrophic movement, but it continues to move if the right conditions are introduced to it."
Paul Evans, whose home gets closer to the slide’s western edge every time the soil sloughs away, said he and many other residents in the neighborhood saw a correlation between work done by the developer and the slide’s activity. And seeing no parties take any level of responsibility for what happened darkens the hope of getting the work done, he said.
"One of the primary reasons why we’re here is to talk about remediation and how it moves forward," Evans said. "In determining who pays for that $2 million, there has to be an allocation of responsibility."
Other frustrated residents lined up to question city leaders about why the developer was allowed to continue working on the hill, despite signs of movement as early as 2012.
But a tearful mayor expressed his regret for the slide and the destruction it brought to the community.
"You have no idea the soul searching that some of this staff has gone through," Arave said. "The fact that we may have not caught everything, I really wish we had. We’re past that now. I wish we could go back and change that, but now unfortunately, we’re talking about the part of economics and how we deal with that."