North Salt Lake residents blast city officials over landslide

Thursday , August 07, 2014 - 7:32 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

NORTH SALT LAKE – The mud hasn’t dried or been removed, but the finger pointing has already started.

Monday night’s mudslide on this city’s eastside that forced the evacuation of 27 families and left one home severely damaged generated some pointed questions in Tuesday’s meeting of the city council.

“This is not an accident, not an act of God. This was made because of decisions made by developers and the City of North Salt Lake. It’s not a situation where something just happened and we are trying to pick up the pieces,” Steve Peterson told city leaders during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.

Peterson said city officials should never have issued building permits in the area.

Peterson’s wife, Judy, complained city leaders gave some homeowners in the area no advance notice to potentially evacuate. She said her insurance company will not cover any of their loss.

“This is greed and greed’s definition is called selfishness. When people are selfish they don’t think of what can happen to anyone else. Everyone covers their hind side. There are people who knew that mountain wasn’t in good shape,” Peterson said.

Resident John Satler predicted Monday’s mudslide in the area won’t be the last problem in the region. He said plugging free-flowing springs on the hillside to allow development will lead to more problems.

“You say the city is owned by us. You listened to every one of us and didn’t pay attention…You knew of the problem. You can’t tell me you didn’t. At what point are we as North Salt Lake going to take control of our city and not let it be controlled by developers?” Satler asked.

Resident Dale Elton was more specific in his finger-pointing. He said City Manager Barry Edwards shares some of the blame for what happened on the hillside.

“I believe the man sitting on my right is supposed to be your eyes and ears. The reality is you guys are taking all the heat. I don’t expect the mayor to follow the developer around in a car or anyone else. He (Edwards) was your eyes and ears,” Elton said.

Len Arave was not mayor at the time the subdivision was approved but told Elton he was elected to take the heat.

The mayor tried to assure residents the mudslide will be dealt with appropriately and issues will be addressed. He said there will come a time when the legal responsibility for what happened will also be determined.

Arave said some of the big issues going forwarded were ironed out in a 4 p.m. meeting on Tuesday when city officials met with the developer. He said the first priority is to avoid getting any more water in the area and the developer will conduct testing and fix the problem going forward. He said caution may be the order of the day initially.

“We don’t know enough about the slide to be sure we wouldn’t do more damage,” Arave said. He promised there will be a mitigation plan in place as quickly as possible. “Our problem is we don’t know what to do. We don’t want to make a terrible problem worse,” Arave told residents.

Some city leaders weighed in on the issue at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, after most of the angry residents and TV cameras were gone.

Councilman Brian Horrocks said one of the primary responsibilities of an elected official is to protect the rights of property owners. He said if a property owner comes to the city with a project and it meets city requirements for code and safety and is within reasonable guidelines, city leaders can’t say no.

“We simply have no choice, or we are subject to legal action. There are times we approve things I personally don’t like,” Horrocks said.

Horrocks said he doesn’t know what the city’s responsibility will be in the matter but said city leaders need to make sure the people who have been damaged are made whole.

“I don’t know what that means as far as personal responsibility but we need to do the right thing,” Horrocks said.

Councilman Conrad Jacobson described the mudslide as a tragedy of major proportions but also said the ability to say no to a development isn’t as easy as it may sound on the outside.

“There are limitations to our decision-making powers when it comes to approval or disapproval of a developer request. As long as a request is within code and there is expert option that the requested action is safe, we have no ability to refuse,” Jacobson said.

Arave and Edwards both broke into tears at the end of the meeting as they detailed the efforts of city work crews from the public works department to address the problem.

Wednesday officials were still advising the residents of about 25 households to stay elsewhere. Three other families in North Salt Lake have left their homes under mandatory evacuations. It’s unknown when they’ll be allowed to return.

Arave declared a state of emergency and is asking the state for resources to guard against another round of slides.

“It’s hard to say whether or not it’d be catastrophic,” said Greg McDonald, a geologist for the Utah Geological Survey. “It’s not stable by any means.”

Further development on the hillside has been halted until the cause of the landslide becomes clear, Edwards said.

Eaglepointe Development, the company that has developed homes there extensively since 1999, said it conducted its work based on recommendations and approvals from the city and independent engineering companies.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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