It's been more than three years since the Utah Geological Survey began tracking a slow-moving landslide in Mountain Green, Morgan County.
County officials notified the agency in June 2005 that the $587,000 home of Nancy Hayes was slowly being rendered unlivable. The property has since been condemned.
In the same subdivision, at least two other homes the $500,000-plus home of Brad and Monica Hall and the $1.1 million home of Brian Pugh also were damaged by the landslide.
The Halls brought a lawsuit against Brett Simonsen Construction, which built their home, and Hayes brought a suit against Earthtec, a geotechnical engineering firm, in 2006.
Recently, Pugh also filed a lawsuit against Brett Simonsen Construction in 2nd District Court in Morgan County.
All three homeowners had seen geotechnical studies that said their homes could be built safely on what is now known as the Creekside Drive landslide. But as Mother Nature not-so-kindly pointed out, the studies were wrong.
The Halls and Hayeses have abandoned their homes, and Pugh fears he will have to do the same, according to court documents.
Pugh's suit states that not only was the geotechnical study for his property incomplete and inadequate, but the construction company should have known it.
"BSC breached its contract with Dr. Pugh by failing to provide competent engineering, excavation and backfill, retaining, concrete footings and foundation, and footings and foundation labor, among other items, for the construction of the house," documents state.
The construction company's attorney, Andrew Wright, declined to comment on the allegations Friday.
But in documents related to the Halls' lawsuit, which makes allegations similar to Pugh's, Brett Simonsen Construction denied virtually all of the Halls' allegations.
Since 2006, the Halls' case against Brett Simonsen Construction has nearly been dismissed twice for inactivity.
The Hayeses' case could be resolved within the next two months if the parties meet for mediation, according to court documents.
None of this had to happen, says UGS senior geologist Francis Ashland.
There is nearly always a way for engineering to make a way for safe construction, Ashland told the Deseret News.
In California, some methods, which include mass grading, or the leveling of hillsides, are commonly put to use in areas where potential hazards exist. Some homes require mechanical stabilization, meaning a home's foundation is anchored into rock or concrete sometimes hundreds of feet away with high-strength steel cables.
But those methods are expensive.
To anchor Pugh's home, his documents state, it would cost $900,000, which would nearly double the cost of his home.
"Is it cost-effective?" Ashland says is the question that needs to be answered when a home or subdivision is being built.
For the high-priced homes of Southern California, extreme engineering methods are warranted and often cost-effective. But a smaller local homebuilder may not have the cash to engage in that type of engineering.
So it becomes a case of "buyer beware."
Ashland said residents who want to build in canyons or on benches should hire a geologist to look at a property before they buy, an investigation that could cost $500 to $1,000.
"It would generally be a prudent thing to do," Ashland said, adding that some residents call the Utah Geological Survey for help in identifying possible hazards.
A geologist would look at topographical maps and published information to discover what the level of danger is or how a particular site might be subject to collapsible soils, he said, and could give the prospective buyer help with questions to ask the homebuilder.
Utah is rife with areas of geologic hazards. And it seems development is always encroaching on those areas.Bountiful, Layton, North Salt Lake and Cedar Hills have all experienced landslides in the past few years, Ashland said.
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