After Landslide, Assessing Blame Is a Tough Task

Aug 6, 2014

Several families are still have no access to their homes because of a landslide that occurred in North Salt Lake on Tuesday. As workers begin to clean up and secure the slide area, some are beginning to ask who, if anyone, is to blame. 

North Salt Lake city officials say they began seeing small signs of a movement on the hill as early as last fall. But they say it wasn’t until early July that they began seeing enough movement to raise concern. North Salt Lake mayor Len Arave says while they were working on a solution, nobody realized how urgent the situation was.

“We wish we would have acted more aggressively with that, but with that evidence I don’t know that we could have acted differently,” he says.

Utah Geological Survey geologist Gregg Beukelman says it’s hard to assign blame in a situation like this. He says reports can only provide so much information, and ultimately it’s up to the city to weigh the risks inherent with any steep slope.

“It’s not an easy task to say yea, or nay, is this slope going to fail, particularly a slope that hasn’t failed previously," Beukelman says. "It’s very difficult to come up with that determination.”

Before allowing Sky Properties to develop the hillside, the city engineer had to consult with the developer and their geotechnical engineers to ensure it was safe.  Arave acknowledges that there will always be a risk when building on a hillside, but says if the report indicates it’s safe, it’s hard for them to tell the developer not to build.

“We live in a county where there is property rights," Arave says. "And the government can’t always say I’m going to stop you from doing something that is foolish. I don’t think we want to live in a country where the government says you can’t do anything anymore that I think is foolish.”

Arave admits that at some point in the process something went wrong, but it will take time to determine the flaws in that process.