SHIFTING SOIL HAS SANTA CLARANS SINGING BLUE CLAY BLUES

Published: Friday, Jan. 26 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

Many residents in this small town are complaining about the blue clay blues.

"It's the best kept secret in Southern Utah," resident John Dombek told the Santa Clara City Council Wednesday.Dombek listed the seriousness of the financial and emotional damage being caused by the lack of communication from either city hall, real estate agents, contractors or old time residents - all of whom, he said, are aware of the hazards of building on unstable, "blue clay soil."

Such soil exists in Santa Clara Heights on the north and west side of Santa Clara.

"Newcomers buying homes in Santa Clara Heights are not being told that some homes in the Heights are built and sold without the unsuspecting buyers being aware of the unstable soil problem, leaving themselves open to future repair bills starting in the neighborhood of $70,000 or more.

"My purpose," Dombek continued, "is not to cast blame, slow growth or building progress in the area, nor try to bind the city in financial or legal responsibility, or attempt to acquire financial damages." Dombek, however, has spent upwards of $50,000 to save his own home from falling down.

Dombek said he wants the city, contractors and real estate agents to tell prospective homebuyers about the dangers to homes built on the unstable soil in Santa Clara Heights.

To do this, the Santa Clara resident suggests the city prepare forms that clearly tell all prospective homebuyers of the dangers of unstable soils in the area and the possibility of home-repair costs, should their house begin to deteriorate due to soil movement.

When Dombek bought his home, he was not shown a release of liability form about his property, which is on file with the city of Santa Clara and releases the city from any and all liability. Nor was he told his house was built on unstable soil, he said.

Dombek then introduced two Heights homeowners who told the council of their house problems as the blue clay underneath their homes began to move.

Joseph Hickel bought a house on Dutchman Drive that was built in 1992. He paid about $140,000 for the house. Early last year he began having trouble with splits in his house, his driveway and other areas of his property. He contacted the builder and was assured there was no water on his property. Deciding to investigate, he dug a hole at the corner of his house, where it was splitting, making the hole 30 inches wide and 7 feet deep.

He struck water. A sump pump was placed on the hole June 1, 1995, and 1,500 gallons of water a day have been pumped from his hole.

"And my house is still moving," he said. Some "blue clay" houses have been reassessed by the Washington County appraiser, Hickel said, and "my property assessment is now $35,000.

"I'm faced with a grave situation, I want some action or some answers."

Dombek also introduced a letter from homeowner John R. Griffin, also living on Dutchman Drive, listing much of the same problems. According to his letter, the estimate to repair his home is "around $50,000 to $80,000."

"These conditions are not new to the City Council," Dombek said. "Even tobacco companies have put warnings on their products, surely the city of Santa Clara can do no less."

Dombek said at least 50 families were experiencing problems with unstable soil movement as well as an LDS meetinghouse that was closed for months while the soil around it was stabilized.

Local contractor Floyd Johnson advised the council that city inspectors must be more qualified to check geotechnical aspects of homes being built and suggested thickened slabs with matted steel webs underneath the homes be considered. Johnson stated he was building with thickened slabs and webbed steel, which was proving to be successful in combating the movement of the unstable blue clay soil.

Santa Clara Mayor Rick Hafen said the council would take the matter under consideration and said the council was indeed working on a geological hazard ordinance he feels will address the problem.

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