City shows why it isn’t at fault for Valley View landslides
EVERETT - The city is standing its ground that it is not at fault for a series of 2011 landslides in the Valley View Neighborhood.
A group of bluff side homeowners along Burl Place and Panaview Boulevard are preparing a class action lawsuit against the city. As of last week, eight residents have filed tort claims in the past few weeks asking for a total of more than $6 million in damages.
A 2011 rainstorm caused landslides that forced one homeowner to abandon his home and left others perilously living on the edge of a ravine with up to 40-degree slopes.
Residents contest that the landslides were caused when the city enlarged a storm water overflow pipe they say sends way too much water into the creek below their homes.
The city disagrees, and provided the Tribune documents that, in some cases, state the homes sit on unsecured slopes made of fill dirt. Many of the now affected homes had stability piers driven through their foundations when the homes were built in the 1970s and 1980s, permit documents provided by the city show.
City officials restrained from comment because of the potential lawsuit.
The city plans to give a presentation on the slides this week at its meeting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27 in the City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave.
“The available information all suggests that the landslide was caused by a combination of (a) man-placed fill on several of the affected properties; (b) the topography of the site; (c) perched groundwater movement through relatively permeable soil resting on an underlying layer of relatively impermeable material; and (d) sustained rainfall events in the winter of 2010-11 resulting in deep soil saturation of already unstable soils,” city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke wrote earlier this month.
For example, an engineer contracted by the developer who built Jay Himmelman’s home noted in 1983 that the slope is “only marginally stable and the loose fill placed on the slope is unstable.” That engineer suggested foundation piers be installed. Other homes in the area have similar notes.
Himmelman’s home and others experienced a landslide after snow and rain in winter 1996, a geotechnical report states. Over a foot of snow hit the area and then immediately melted in warmer temperatures.
At the time, though, the same slopes had stayed stable for the past 20 years, the geotechnical firm wrote.
The home next to Himmelman’s had further settling issues in 2009 with cracks to the foundation slab, a separate geotechnical engineer wrote.
In the 1997 report, the geotechnical engineers denied there was a deep-seated failure in the soil, but the slides may have been caused by dirt fill put on the slopes to hold up the homes.
Earlier this month, Himmelman announced the potential lawsuit to the City Council asking the city to consider residents’ tort claims. His home on Panaview is losing earth. His neighbors had their homes slide down the slope.
The city so far has red-tagged three homes because of the slide damage.
Documents from the 1990s for one home on Burl Place that fell down the slope, which the owner made a $2.3 million claim, state that fill dirt was never filled in as required by the city. It is unknown at press time whether that requirement was since met.
A set of 28 foundation piles were installed at the house in 2009 after cracks started showing.
Neighbors such as Himmelman contest that the slides in 2011 were caused by the storm water drainage system upgrade in 2004. He asserts the city neglected to consider the impact downstream and environmental documents from the project show the city didn’t consider those downstream effects.
Himmelman, a systems engineer, probed the environmental documentation and he described how erosion was neither mitigated nor anticipated. Residents also hired private engineers who concluded the slides were unnatural.
Himmelman estimated the new drainage pipe creates velocities of up to 42 feet of water per second.
The neighborhood dubbed the stream below their homes “Armageddon Creek.”
“In 2003, you guys were very much in tune with how to handle a landslide,” Himmelman told the city last week.
Since the pipe enlargement, three homes have been affected by landslides in 2007 in addition to the 2011 slides. The 2011 slides in March came during a heavy rainstorm.
The affected homes sit in the lowest elevation point in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood does not want to take the city to court, Himmelman said earlier this month. He threatened that the city’s impasse in responding to the claims, though, may lead to a court date.
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