Our View: Better assess hillside risks

Saturday , August 16, 2014 - 12:40 PM

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Editorial Board

The hillside slide in North Salt Lake that destroyed one home and put several other homes at risk provides an opportunity for public officials and developers to re-evaluate and reform procedures used to determine whether developments on hillsides get the OK to proceed. 

There is no real official warning system as to when a ridgeline might fail and cause a slide. There’s no formal public system to track slides. Developers and builders have no requirements to look at any government assessments of slide risk. Frankly, it would be expensive for a city to do a slide risk on a slope. According to Ed Harp of the U.S. Geological Survey, the cost of a slope slide evaluation is about $60,000. Currently, what happens when development is proposed is that the developers get their own experts to sign off on construction. They are not mandated to look at government studies.

There needs to be reforms in the due diligence of hillside development. Utah is particularly susceptible to slides. Our hillsides have too much loose rock that covers clay. Climate change, or even a strong spell of rainstorms will likely lead to further incidents such as what occurred in North Salt Lake. And these slides have the potential to be deadly, such as the occurrence of multiple deaths earlier this year in Washington.

Top of Utah state Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, has plans to initiate legislation that would provide more landslide information. We support that initiative. It’s a good first step. Over time, we will need to spend the money necessary to better assess the risks of hillside development. Cities, in particular, need to take a larger role in determining if development in their land area is safe. They need to play a larger role than simply relying on the developer for answers on slide risk. One idea might be to have the city more involved in the due diligence, at the expense of the developer wishing to build. Cities’ officials must also properly factor in the potential risks when making zoning and developments decisions.

Our heart breaks for people who lose their homes to a slide. To lose our safest place in the world is crushing to the spirit. Let’s improve the procedures in building on risky areas, and decrease the threat to property and life.

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