Monday , June 11, 2018 - 5:15 AM
RIVERDALE — Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
And really, in this particular slowly unfolding natural disaster, hope is about all that’s left.
Talk to almost anyone involved with the on-going Riverdale landslide and the words “hope” and “hopefully” pepper those conversations. Hope that the hillside will somehow miraculously stabilize. Hope that the natural springs and other flowing water contributing to the ongoing disaster will abate. Hope that the homes atop the slide, as well as the adjoining road, won’t get caught in the slide. Hope that the property below the slide will cease being covered in mud and debris.
Back on Nov. 19, a large section of the hillside behind homes on 600 West in Riverdale gave way. By late November, three homes had been placed under a mandatory evacuation notice, and since then backyards along the west side of the street have continued to disappear over the side of the precipice.
This past week, nearly seven months after the beginning of the slow-motion train wreck that has officially been dubbed the Spring Creek Road landslide, a fourth home was declared unsafe and the city now forbids entry or occupancy of that structure as well. Those residents had already voluntarily left that home some months back.
Rodger Worthen, Riverdale city administrator, is hopeful that the landslide area will soon find its “angle of repose” and stabilize. However, as the slide continues to move to the east, it could eventually displace more residents, and possibly even force the city to close a section of 600 West.
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“We hoped the slide would slow, but if it continues to advance and gets to within a certain distance of the road, we’ll have to make that difficult call,” he said.
Worthen said city officials have been talking since December about what they would need to do if the slide reaches the asphalt on 600 West. Now, he says, they’re beginning to put all those plans down on paper. Culinary water lines, sewer lines, storm drains, gas lines — all would need to be re-routed in order to continue to service homes in the area.
“We’ll more than likely lose at least the three homes that were originally vacated, and possibly part of the road,” Worthen said.
Ben Erickson, a project geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said the landslide is “continuing to progress upslope toward the homes.” The latest survey data shows that the edge of the slide is now just 5.4 feet of the northernmost home.
So then, what sort of odds are geologists giving on whether any of the homes will go over the edge? Erickson says that, two months ago, he wasn’t sure how it would all shake out. But now, with the scarp edge creeping dangerously close to the houses, he wouldn’t bet against it.
“Now, it’s looking more inevitable,” Erickson said.
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The problem, he said, continues to be the natural springs at the base of the cliff face. That water is still eroding away much of the soil that falls in the landslide — soil that otherwise might be stabilizing the base of the slide.
The one thing that may have slowed the slide, according to Erickson, is that it’s been a pretty dry water year, so the spring runoff has been less than it would have been.
However, Erickson did say geologists expect the potential for more runoff later in the summer, with all the landscape watering that can influence groundwater flow.
“It’s still going, it’s still active, and it’s still dangerous,” Erickson said. “But we’re hoping it reaches a stable slope in the near future.”
Although much of the attention has been focused on the homes at the top of the landslide, all that land is sliding somewhere. And that somewhere is Mike and Becky Meehan’s property.
The Syracuse couple owns 10 acres directly at the bottom of the landslide. Meaning, their once-idyllic pasture land near the Weber River is now covered in mud and debris that is measured in feet.
“It’s so depressing,” Mike Meehan said. “That spot was one of the hidden gems. The kids would go back there and play, and I had all my horses on it.”
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Meehan has spent much of the last seven months just trying to stay ahead of the growing disaster.
“You saw me loading that backhoe?” he asked the Standard-Examiner on Friday. “I was taking it to the shop. Because I wore it out trying to dig out all that mud.”
Meehan has been trying to keep a channel clear to divert the water from the springs in the area and eventually to the Weber River. If he doesn’t keep that channel clear, it fills up with mud, and then it all spills onto his land again.
“It’s just continually coming down on that slope,” he said.
This is land that has been in the couple’s family for more than 35 years. And these days, it’s land that is taking up all of their free time.
“Me and my wife go down there practically every day,” Meehan said. “And I’m down there working almost nightly with a backhoe. It’s just so tiring.”
Meehan has invited contractors onto the property to look at the possibility of hauling away all that dirt from the landslide — he says it could be used for things like topsoil and fill dirt on construction sites. But he says one contractor estimated that there was a good 5,000 dump-truck loads of dirt sitting atop the original pasture land.
Whatever happens, the Meehans plan to restore their property to its former condition.
“I hope to get the land back to the way it was — that’s my intention,” Meehan said. “There’s a lot of dirt, so we may have a higher pasture than we had before. It’ll take years to do it, but I’ll get it back to where it was.”
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Since November, the Meehans have spent “thousands, but not yet tens of thousands” of dollars trying to mitigate further effects of the landslide on their property. And the couple says they’ve been talking to a lawyer and are ready to take legal action.
“We’re pursuing it,” Meehan said. “We didn’t do a damn thing, and we’re the ones left holding the ball.”
Worthen says the city is just hoping that Mother Nature will finally calm the landslide.
“We hoped it would settle down, we wish it would,” Worthen said. “Obviously, it’s slowed a little, but it hasn’t stopped.”
And Meehan’s final remaining hope these days?
“All I hope is that those houses don’t come down,” he said. “Because when they come down, I guess it’s my responsibility to get rid of them. And I’m just not going to do it.”
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