RIVERDALE — Down below the steep bluff that started eroding in late 2017, inundating what had been the family getaway spot, a refuge of sorts from the stresses of life, Becky Meehan wonders what comes next.
Two years after the landslide started, though — threatening four homes atop the rise, prompting heated speculation about the cause and giving rise to a simmering lawsuit — no answers are in the offing. The Meehan family property, eight acres of undeveloped land down below those homes, also took a hit, collecting all the eroding soil, maybe 5,000 dump truck loads worth.
“I said, absolutely, we want to rebuild,” Meehan said, recalling prior family discussions about moving forward in the aftermath of the catastrophe. “But every time I come down here, I’m afraid. I don’t know if it’d ever be safe anymore.”
Last week, three of the four homes threatened by the landslide — evacuated in the aftermath of the erosion — were demolished. The lien-holder on at least two of the homes forgave the homeowners’ loans, relieving them of having to pay for an uninhabitable home, and also covered demolition costs. The demolition company agreed to cover the cost of taking down a third house.
That doesn’t completely resolve things. Three of the four homeowners are parties in a lawsuit against the cities of Riverdale and Washington Terrace over responsibility. But it’s something, perhaps. Down below on the Meehan property, by contrast, any step toward resolution seems a million years off, if that.
Meehan and husband Mike, who own and maintain the land, live in Syracuse. But the property, containing a few outbuildings and pastureland for horses, had been a focal point for them, extended family and friends. Becky Meehan’s late father acquired it around 1980 and it served as an oasis, hidden within Riverdale. He called it Burch’s Triple-F Farm, the three “f’s” standing for family, friends and fun, and it was the site over the years of family weddings, family reunions and more. Mike Meehan planned to spend his retirement years working the property, keeping it in shape.
That seems a lifetime ago, though, and these days questions are all that Becky Meehan seems to have.
“We don’t know and that’s what’s so hard. It’s like what do we do now? Where do we go from here?” she said, walking the dusty, brown parcel, gradually being overtaken by weeds and wild growth.
‘SOMEONE SCREAMED, “RUN.”’
It was Nov. 19, 2017 — exactly two years ago as of Tuesday — when the landslide began. That’s when it became readily apparent, anyway, that something was going on beneath the yards of the four homes in the 4800 block of South 600 West in Riverdale.
Meehan was down below with several other family members, prepping Christmas trees for the family’s seasonal business, Burch’s Christmas Trees. That’s when the horses they kept on the land started acting strange, ran toward a stable. Someone noticed a tree on the steep rise fall. Then the bluff started falling away and muck started gushing down, an avalanche of mud.
“It was coming down so fast. Someone screamed, ‘Run!’” Meehan said.
The ooze continued in the weeks and months to come, threatening the stability of the four homes up above and covering a big swath of the Meehan property with a layer of soil measuring 10 to 15 feet deep in some spots. It inundated the horse stable, a barn and a storage building, partially filling the interior of each and requiring those who enter to duck to avoid hitting ceiling rafters. What was once open green pastureland where the horses grazed became a muddy expanse, covered with random overgrowth, sprouting trees and other wild vegetation.
The Meehans are involved in the ongoing suit in 2nd District Court in Ogden along with the owners of three of the four impacted homes. They maintain, among other things, that leaks from the water systems serving Riverdale and Washington Terrace are behind the landslide and they seek compensation for their losses. Riverdale officials, for their part, maintain that natural springs caused the erosion, not their actions.
It’s frustrating. Meehan wonders if officials from the cities are trying to outlast the property owners, keep the lawsuit going indefinitely until they can no longer afford to keep up the legal fight. And she tries to envision resolution, some sort of solution, so far to no avail.
“We’re left here just holding the bag,” she said. “What can we do?”