City officials: unapproved construction a possible factor in landslide

Posted at 4:31 PM, Aug 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-08 00:25:09-04

NORTH SALT LAKE -- Two days after a landslide destroyed a home in North Salt Lake, the city manager says un-permitted construction and landscaping may have played a role.

The statement came as crews are just days away from gathering data to try to understand how the earth shifted.

By Monday, engineers hope to drill into the hillside and collect samples to determine water flow and the severity of movement.

Crews from Kern River Gas Transmission company drilled Thursday, installing monitors to help them analyze movement and protect their line.

"The slide continues to move--ever so slightly--but it does move," City Manager Barry Edwards said.

The movement hasn't been enough to prompt further evacuations. In fact, Questar restored natural gas service to most of the homes affected Thursday. But many residents remain concerned there could be another slide.

"No, we don't feel any safer," resident Steve Peterson said. "I'm sure we feel less safe because no one actually knows if that mountain could give way."

The city manager said that, before the landslide, geotechnical studies determined the mountain was stable to build homes but there was also a possibility of landslides. And after the studies were done, the city suspects retaining walls were built on the hillside without permission.

"There may have been some work done out that wasn't done with permits both on the part of the developer and some of the residents," Edwards said.

City leaders are in the early stages of investigating whether that played a role in Tuesday morning's landslide that destroyed the Utrilla family's home and still threatens others. Meanwhile, the developer denied any involvement in un-permitted construction.

"We're very highly regulated, I mean you may not think so but we can't move or do anything without the city, have an engineer OK it and/or inspect what we do," said Scott Kjar, Vice-President of Eaglepointe Development.

"At this point, we're just making observations about what we're seeing, we're not drawing any conclusions," Edwards added.

The city manager also said there may have been additional un-permitted construction at the top of the hill and that could have played a larger role than additional retaining walls.

A number of residents have lashed out at North Salt Lake City, saying city leaders shouldn't have allowed the developer to build homes so high on the hill, but the developer said they have built 1,500 lots and Tuesday's landslide was an anomaly. Senator Todd Weiler from Woods Cross adds that if the developer followed proper guidelines and submitted geotechnical reports, the city has to grant the permits or risk being sued.