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Frustrated North Salt Lake residents in search of answers

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 9:10 p.m. MDT

Crews work following a landslide in North Salt Lake, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

NORTH SALT LAKE — North Salt Lake city officials Tuesday night declared a state of emergency in search of state relief money to help residents and secure the moving hillside that demolished a home and put others at risk.

But it did not answer the key questions area residents were asking as they watched the destruction from their porches and driveways Tuesday: Why wasn't more done to secure the area when problems surfaced last year? Why is development occurring on the hillside? And most importantly: Are we safe?

"This was not an act of God. This was an act of man. And this was an act that was caused by wanting to build in an area that people already knew was at risk," said Steve Peterson, who lives on Parkway Drive.

Peterson said he awoke after hearing a noise Tuesday morning. He looked outside and saw movement on the hillside across from his home. His neighbors, a family of 10, ran across the street to his house. He sat on the porch with his neighbors as they watched the home they had just paid for crumble.

"Ten people could easily have been killed," Peterson said.

Scott Kjar of Sky Properties, the company that developed Eaglepointe Estates, said his company has been developing homes in the area since 1991 and has not had problems. Kjar defended the work that went into the development:

"The city did their duty. We did our duty," he said. "We get our soils engineers; they get their soils engineers. They both meet and talk and then they say, 'Yeah, this is OK.'"

Kjar said the work is extensive and was done "in full light of the city."

"It's a fluke. It really is. I can't fault the city for what happened. We can't fault our guys. We're just saying, 'Stuff happened,'" he said in an interview with KSL-TV.

Before a development is approved, city engineers are required to OK the concept, preliminary plans and final plans, North Salt Lake city officials said Tuesday. Plans include blueprints, reports and a geotechnical report, according to North Salt Lake City engineer Paul Ottoson. Geotechnical reports offer recommendations ranging from pavement design to home footings.

"Obviously of the things they would look for in an area like this would be … slope stability," he said.

To have a development approved, hillsides need to have 2 horizontal feet for every vertical foot, Ottoson said. Eaglepoint Estates is at the required limit.

A geotechnical firm, officials from the Utah Department of Natural Resources and a team from BYU were on site Tuesday to try to determine what happened. As of Tuesday afternoon, "we don't know. I can't say at this point," Ottoson said. "Obviously the rain was a big factor."

Development officials say the landslide is a rarity in their experience.

"We've been doing this since 1991 on this mountain and this is the first failure like this that we've seen," Kjar said.

An emotional Peterson took his complaints before the North Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday, saying the blame lies with both the city and the developers, and demanding his neighbors be made whole.

North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave responded, saying that while no one was ready to accept liability Tuesday, the city and the development company have agreed to work together for residents.

"They have equipment and crews that are ready to go right now and start moving dirt to fix the problem, if we only knew how to fix it," said Arave, who fears premature action could make the grave problem even worse.

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