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N. Salt Lake not responsible for damages caused in landslide, city officials say

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Posted at 10:02 PM, Aug 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-20 11:13:27-04

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah -- The city of North Salt Lake says the landslide that destroyed one home and put several others in a danger zone is not their fault.

FOX 13 went door to door, talking to residents in the neighborhood. Most of them wanted to stay off camera because they are thinking about suing the city.

"Every day I have to look across the street at a house that's collapsed," said Steven Peterson who lives across from the home destroyed by the landslide.

Residents are fired up about a statement the City of North Salt Lake released late Tuesday. It says in part, "The City does not believe it is responsible or at fault for the slide...The City does not believe it could have legally denied the application for the subdivision to be built on the hillside."

"Legally I don't think we were at fault, we weren't up there grading, we didn't move equipment and so legally we're not at fault," said North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arvae.

Arvae said the city is committed to working with those affected by the landslide but has yet to decide if it will use tax payer’s dollars to compensate anyone for damages.

Many neighbors who now live across the blight were unaware of the letter but Steven Peterson is not surprised by the city's response.

"It's the politically correct thing to do but it's not the morally correct thing to do, and I think in the end they are wrong legally as well," Peterson said.

"There's just been a lot of misinformation out there so we talked to our attorney. He thought it would be a good idea to put a statement out that said we don't think we're at fault just to clarify with our citizens that's how we see the situation," Arvae said.

That's not however how the residents see it.

"It's obvious that the city has responsibility for this and the primary reason it has responsibility for this is because there were problems with the land that showed up as early as last November," Peterson said.

FOX 13 tried talking to more people in the neighborhood but most of them want to keep quiet while they think about what's next.

"I assume there are discussions that are out there. Typically when there's litigation you sue everybody, their dogs and their cats -- and so will we be sued? It wouldn't surprise me," the mayor said.

Several of the residents told FOX 13 they have hired attorneys to represent them and say suing the city is definitely on the table for them.

Read the full statement from city officials of North Salt Lake below:

The slide was a catastrophic event and the city expresses its deepest sympathy to those affected. We understand that there is significant work to be done to repair the damage which has been caused. The City does not believe it is responsible for or at fault for the slide.. The City did not cause the slide nor could it have safely done anything to prevent the slide from occurring after it began to manifest itself.

Many people have asked why the City did not just deny the application to develop subdivision in the first place. The City does not believe it could have legally denied the application for the subdivision to be built on the hillside. Private property owners have rights under both the state and federal constitutions to the reasonable use of their property and the City has been given very limited powers by the state legislature to regulate the subdivision of land. Current state law requires the City to approve any subdivision that meets the ordinances of the City.

This subdivision met all of the ordinances of the City. This particular plat was part of an ongoing development that was first approved some years ago. Most of the homes and property affected by this slide were approved as part of the same development. The City required a soils report from a qualified engineer for the entire subdivision and required another specific report for the latest phase of the subdivision. Both of these reports indicated that the land was suitable for the subdivision and the city relied on those reports as it made decisions.

Even though the City does not believe it is legally responsible for the damages incurred in the slide, we are very concerned for those affected. The City intends to work with the developer and the community to assist those people and entities damaged and to take steps to mitigate future damage as much as possible. This assistance currently planned consists of the City using its personnel, consultants, expertise and equipment to evaluate the situation with the goal of preventing any further damages and in mitigating the damages already incurred as much as possible.

At this time no decision has been made about the use of tax dollars to directly compensate anyone damaged by the slide. If the City does decide to use tax dollars for this purpose it will not be because it believes it is legally responsible for the slide but for other reasons.