North Salt Lake makes plan to stabilize slide, takes criticism from victims
North Salt Lake • As officials made plans for long-term stabilization of a hill that slid into a neighborhood this week, members of a family that lost their house in the disaster claimed the city has done nothing to help them in the aftermath.
"The city in no way has come to us to say, 'Is there anything we can do?' " David Utrilla, a relative of the family living in the house, said Wednesday.
He said the house was occupied by a dozen of his family members who came to Utah from Peru his parents, a sister, two brothers, a sister-in-law and six of his nieces and nephews. Eight of them were in the house when the landslide hit, Utrilla said, and scrambled to get out, some wearing only pajamas.
The family watched as the home was destroyed by rocks and debris sliding down from an area with new residential construction higher up the mountain, a sight that caused some so much anxiety that he took them to the hospital Tuesday night, said Utrilla, who is honorary consul to Peru in Utah and lives nearby in North Salt Lake.
"The whole house basically collapsed behind them," said Utrilla, who was flanked by his mother and a brother as he spoke at a community meeting held by city officials. "It's a miracle they're alive."
Utrilla said the developer, Sky Properties, has provided the family temporary housing and community members have offered help. In addition, a fund to assist the family has been established at America First Credit Union under the name Utrilla Family Relief Fund.
But the city has not offered help, Utrilla claims, and is not taking responsibility for the damage.
City Manager Barry Edwards insisted city officials have met with the family and asked what they could do to help. He said Mayor Len Arave met with family members the night before the landslide and again on Wednesday, when he was accompanied by the police chief and fire chief.
"This city cares about its residents," Edwards said.
In addition, he said the city is taking responsibility for disaster mitigation and that damages will be decided by someone else. If North Salt Lake is assigned responsibility, "we will meet that obligation," he said.
By Wednesday morning, many of the 27 families who were evacuated from the Eagleridge neighborhood in the vicinity of 739 S. Parkway Drive were able to return to their homes. Gas to the homes remained turned off because the gas valve in the destroyed home is buried under rubble. Four homes including the Utrillas' were considered too dangerous for occupancy.
A stream of Questar trucks and residents wanting to see the damage were driving through the neighborhood and construction resumed on one house on Parkway Drive.
At the community meeting, which drew about 40 people, Edwards said geological testing will begin after the ground dries out for 48 hours. Engineers will gather a week of data that will be used to prepare a longer-term plan to remediate the slope, a process that could take two to three weeks, he said.
"At this point, it's like watching paint dry," Edwards said of the wait for a two-day stretch without rain.
Officials believe that after the work is completed, "we'll have the hillside restored to a safe condition so people don't have to worry about living in their homes," he said.
Some residents were still worried about the possibility of more landslides and asked why the developer was allowed to build at the top of the hill. Edwards said state law allows a development to be built if it meets certain requirements and the city has little recourse.
One resident, Roger Graves, said it was easy to second guess but the focus now should be on the stabilization effort to stop future landslides.
Ty Weston said homeowners weighed the pros and cons when choosing where to live but they didn't make the choice to have a road built to the top of the hill and a few homes placed there. Weston who thanked firefighters, police, utility workers and others for their response to the landslide also said the city should concentrate on where to go from here.
On Tuesday, city officials had said they planned to declare a state of emergency, which would trigger help from Davis County in removing soil and other materials. However, damage to city property must reach $1,052,000 to qualify for help and Edwards said Wednesday that North Salt Lake did not reach that threshold.