OGDEN — Four landowners impacted by the ongoing Riverdale landslide have filed suit against the cities of Riverdale and Washington Terrace, among others, blaming them for the catastrophic turn of events that threatens four homes.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 28 in 2nd District Court in Ogden, had been expected. But it represents a new turn in the year-old matter, which dates to November 2017, when a bluff abutting a residential neighborhood off 600 West in Riverdale started collapsing, threatening four homes up above. The bluff has continued to wear away, little by little, inundating the property below with earthen matter and placing the four vacated homes in increasing danger of collapse as erosion puts them closer and closer to the slope’s edge.
“The landslide and its accompanying damages were proximately caused by various acts and omissions of defendants, including unreasonable acts amounting to negligence and/or recklessness,” the lawsuit reads, in part.
More specifically, the suit, which also singles out several water-management systems, blames the cities of Riverdale and Washington Terrace, charging that leaking in their water systems led to the landslide. In the past three years, Washington Terrace alone “has reported losing a total of 164 million gallons or 507 acre feet of water,” the suit states. The western city limits of Washington Terrace sit only about two blocks from the Riverdale landslide zone.
Riverdale city officials didn’t immediately return calls for comment on Monday. Washington Terrace leaders, meanwhile, said little since the matter is now in court.
“We’re aware of the lawsuit and I was not surprised they filed it,” Washington Terrace Mayor Mark Allen said Monday. He reiterated city leaders’ contention that water from the Washington Terrace water system is not behind the landslide, caused, a Utah Geological Survey official has said previously, by natural springs at the base of the bluff’s face.
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Those behind the suit include the owners of three of the four Riverdale homes atop the bluff that are threatened by the collapse, Louis Donovan and Amber Gallegos; Annette Cutler and her son Robert Hiatt; and Brett Stephenson. Rebecca and Michael Meehan, a married couple who own 10 acres of farmland at the base of the bluff that has been inundated as it has eroded, are also plaintiffs, while the fourth impacted homeowner from atop the bluff, Joan Reeder, is not involved in the legal matter.
Aside from the cities of Riverdale and Washington Terrace and several water system operators, the suit targets the Jerry D. Weaver Trust, owner of the undeveloped land where the collapsing bluff is located, and Mark Henderson, owner of Classic Waterpark, located north of the Meehan property in Riverdale.
‘THE CITY DID NOTHING’
Besides decrying what they say precipitated the landslide, the litigants also criticized the subsequent response. The follow-up action or lack thereof by the cities of Riverdale and Washington Terrace, Pineview and the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District amounts to “an unlawful taking” of their property and they seek compensation equivalent to its value. They further seek compensation from all the defendants stemming from the loss of the value of their property, cleanup and more.
In seeking compensation for the value of their property, the three suing landowners from the top of the bluff maintain that they never had a say in the orders requiring them to evacuate their homes as the landslide commenced.
“Once control of the uphill homeowners’ homes was wrestled from them, the city did nothing to protect their homes, mitigate the continuing slide or remove the homes while it was still possible,” reads the lawsuit. “If plaintiffs had been allowed to return to their homes,” it goes on, “ they could have and would have taken measures to mitigate the damage to their properties.”
The estimated market values of the Donovan-Gallegos and Stephenson homes had totaled $288,000 and $280,000, respectively, according to the suit.
The lawsuit further alleges that:
Riverdale city workers tried to clear out debris on Nov. 21, 2017, as the landslide commenced, causing the slope face to get “even steeper and more unstable.”
Actions on the slope by the Weaver family, owners of the land, factored in the landslide. The property owners had installed devices to tap into the underground springs in the area but didn’t properly maintain them and refused plaintiffs’ requests to address the issue. Donovan had proposed placing gabion baskets to secure the hillside, but Weaver family members turned back the request.
Actions in the slope area by Henderson and his recreation business also factored in the matter. The business capped underground water springs in the landslide area to develop bike trails in the slope face.
A fence with “no trespassing signs” in front of the four evacuated homes aims to prevent entry onto the property. The erosion has undercut the detached garage on the Donovan-Gallegos property and edges closer and closer to the other homes, according to Utah Geological Survey measurements.
Eroding matter “has also resulted in the swamping of the Meehan property with earthflow,” the lawsuit reads. As a result, farm animals that had roamed the property have been forced onto smaller and smaller sections of land, which led to an injury on a horse that required that the critter be put down.
Representatives from Pineview, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and Classic Waterpark couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday. Contact information for the Jerry D. Weaver Trust wasn’t immediately available.