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New lawsuit filed over North Salt Lake landslide

New lawsuit filed over North Salt Lake landslide

(Trenton Jensen/Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Another lawsuit has entered the debate in North Salt Lake about how to deal with the aftermath of a landslide that remains untouched since the hill fell apart nine months ago.

It's the second time stakeholders have taken legal action over the landslide, hoping for some sort of movement from the people they believe caused the hill to move in the first place.

Kern River Gas Transmission Company and the Eagleridge Tennis and Swim Club have both filed lawsuits to cover the cost of assessing damage and maintaining the safety of their property.

But now, both lawsuits add weight to an already heavy stalemate between the city, the developer and landowners over how to pay for repairs, making the debate just as delicate as the landslide's sandy slopes.

In a complaint filed Monday against Eaglepointe development, two investment companies and GSH Geotechnical Inc., Kern River says it's entitled to $1 million to cover what it paid to assess and maintain the safety of its pipelines after the slide occurred.

Kern River alleges that GSH Geotechnical failed to adequately evaluate the area when it made building recommendations in 2013. It also says the developer used and maintained its land "in a manner that proximately caused or failed to prevent the landslide," according to the complaint.

Scott Kjar, vice president of Eaglepointe Development, said such action "derails" negotiations and puts a resolution on how to fund a $2 million remediation plan developed by the city even further out of reach.

"We're trying to get all the parties in a mode to where they can settle. You start throwing lawsuits around, what happens is it puts everyone else on a deadline to sue each other," Kjar said. "It complicates things."

Kern River declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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The utility company owns two 36-inch natural gas pipelines that run through North Salt Lake, one of which passes within 130 feet southwest of the landslide. The two pipelines serve markets in Utah, Nevada and Southern California.

Prior to development, the developer commissioned a study that identified "potential landslide hazards" in improperly graded areas heavy with gravel. That study was completed in 2003 by Applied Geotechnical Engineering Consultants.

The developer commissioned another study in 2013, this time by GSH Geotechnical. That report deemed the slope "globally stable," but Kern River alleges GSH Geotechnical "negligently failed to search for and consider prior engineering studies," including the 2003 report.

GSH Geotechnical didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

As a result of the slide, Kern River has expended "significant resources" to protect its pipelines, including emptying a section of pipe for one month, doing so "with the expectation that its costs would be reimbursed by the responsible parties," the complaint states.

Crews work following a slide in North Salt Lake, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Photo: Ravell Call/Deseret News
Crews work following a slide in North Salt Lake, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. Photo: Ravell Call/Deseret News

So far, the city has paid $300,000 to come up with a remediation plan to repair and stabilize the hillside and has offered to give another $200,000 toward the plan expected to cost $2 million. Kjar said the developer has spent more than $1 million on providing housing for those who were permanently displaced.

Last week, city leaders and the developer listened to a three-hour stream of frustrated residents asking why work hasn't begun even though a comprehensive remediation plan is on the table. Many are calling on the developer to take the lead on the project.

"Many believe that the developer was the predominant cause of the landslide," Paul Evans, whose home sits near the slide's western edge, said at the meeting. "We watched it. We all watched it. It didn't just happen overnight."

Kjar said the developer did not contribute to the slide, but it is willing to contribute to the repairs once other parties have reached a consensus.

"If it gets tied up in lawsuits, nobody's going to do anything because it takes relief, everybody agreeing. Nobody wants to put up money and still be sued. That's how lawsuits complicate it," Kjar said. "In the end, if we can get a settlement that everybody agrees to and they can put their guns back in their holsters, then we're good."

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Morgan Jacobsen

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