Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) This home at 739 Parkway Drive in North Salt Lake was destroyed by a landslide on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.
Slope in North Salt Lake was prone to landslides, experts say
Red flags » Soil composition, previous development made the area vulnerable, most experts conclude.
First Published Aug 05 2014 02:52 pm • Last Updated Aug 07 2014 08:31 am

Heavy overnight rain triggered the North Salt Lake landslide that devastated one house and sent residents of more than 20 hillside homes fleeing for safety. Even in dry weather, however, the slope that collapsed Tuesday morning was weak and showing signs of danger.

"A large landslide like this will rarely fail catastrophically before giving some warning in advance," said Jeff Moore, a landslide expert in the geology and geophysics department at the University of Utah.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In the months leading up to the landslide, residents had complained of cracks in the top of the slope that collapsed. City officials had been monitoring for landslides by placing instruments designed to detect ground shifts into holes on the slope.

"You don’t put in monitoring holes in a place where you don’t suspect problems," said Utah Geological Survey deputy director Kimm Harty.

TRIB TALK: Join the conversation about landslide risks and how to mitigate them during a live chat at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday

Even before the monitoring began, there were red flags.

"From a geological perspective, I would put a circle around this area and say, ‘Watch out for landslides around here,’ " said Joel Pederson, a geology professor at Utah State University.

The slope had been used as a gravel quarry until the early 1990s, the developer Sky Properties said in a statement. When the property was excavated for development beginning in 1997, the slope was regraded and steepened from its natural state, making it prone to succumb to gravity, Pederson said.

The soil itself was also likely weak. Surveying a geological map, Moore noted that soil in the area is derived from volcanic deposits that turn to clay when repeatedly exposed to water. After looking at photographs of the landslide, Pederson also noticed fine-grain sediments from just below the shoreline of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville. Those sediments, Pederson said, are prone to sliding.

North Salt Lake City Councilman Conrad Jacobson called the slide a "tragedy" for the families involved but said there is little the city can do when developers provide geological reports attesting to the stability of land where they want to build.

story continues below
story continues below

"Any time we build on a hillside, there is concern," Jacobson said. "We required the developer [Sky Properties] to get a geotechnical test done on the hillside prior to development. They came back with a positive report."

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Sky Properties said, "All earthwork in the development surrounding the slide has been performed based upon standard protocols, recommendations and approvals from several independent engineering companies as well as the geotechnical engineers representing North Salt Lake."

Sky Properties also has provided housing for several of the affected families while it works with the city to determine the cause of the landslide, the statement said.

North Salt Lake officials will look at ways to prevent similar events from occurring again, Jacobson said.

"I don’t know how we could have predicted or prevented something like this," he said. "We’re grasping at straws as to what more we could do and how we face the future."

In 1998, the Springhill slide forced the evacuation of one home that was destroyed. But Jacobson noted that event was much different. Springhill was of long duration — the land moved about an inch a year. The slide near Parkway Drive in the Eaglewood development was more of a surface-level event, he said.

Catastrophic landslides are generally difficult to predict because they are caused by processes that occur underground.

"There’s no reason to suggest that city officials are anything except believable for saying they were caught by surprise by this," Pederson said. "And, of course, hindsight is 20-20."

Pederson and Moore said residents should remain wary of additional landslides in the surrounding area, especially with more rain expected.

Tribune reporter Christopher Smart contributed to this report.


Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.