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Deal struck: North Salt Lake, developers and gas company ready to fix landslide

SALT LAKE CITY — City officials in North Salt Lake have reached a tentative agreement with developers and Kern River Gas Transmission to begin remediation on the site of a landslide that claimed one home before the end of this month.

"We have the funding to do the full remediation and the permission to get back on the property. We just need to award this contract so we can get up there and move some dirt," North Salt Lake City Manager Barry Edwards said Thursday.

The city has called a special council meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday to discuss and vote on the agreement.

The Eagleridge Tennis and Swim Club, which sued the city for liability, has also agreed to narrow its claims, according to Edwards.

Edwards said that while no one entity is claiming responsibility for the Aug. 5 slide, they are all set to agree to fix it.

"The best thing to do is to get the hill remediated, regardless of who is found liable," said Scott Kjar, vice president at SKY Properties. He said his company has agreed to pay a portion of the remediation and then let the issue of who is responsible play out in the courts.

"It's a lot of money we're putting up to participate," Kjar said, adding that the company has already expended $1.375 million to build a home for one family that lost their home in the slide, as well as provide help to two other families living in nearby homes when the hillside came down.

"We have not walked away," Kjar said.

Edwards said that SKY Properties has submitted a plan to re-plot the land above the landslide area, but it has agreed to obtain lot-specific geotechnical reports and build only on stable land. The city has deemed certain lots "unbuildable," and Edwards said that won't change unless engineers deem them safe.

Through a bid process, the city has selected West Valley City-based CraCar Construction to handle the work, and while the trio of benefactors may not come up with the total $2 million needed for the work, Edwards said he believes the money will be made up through economic stimulus with jobs created by the work that needs to be done.

"It's the best solution we can come up with," he said.

Developers have not settled with Paul Evans, who owns a home that sits on the edge of a crater created by the landslide. In its claim filed Tuesday, SKY points to "excessive and extreme" water use by Evans as a contributing factor to the hillside's demise.

"That hill was dripping wet when it fell," Kjar said. "It was just goo, coming from somewhere way down deep."

A rainstorm the morning of the slide became the last straw, he said.

It was the first landslide that occurred in the 20-plus years the developers have been working on the hillside. Kjar maintains that the changing hydrology of the hill is at least partly to blame, if not the sole reason for its fracture.

SKY, he said, has been negotiating with the city and other parties since the beginning, "slugging it out to try and make sure that everybody steps up and does their share."

He said he'd rather not call out individuals, but because Evans had filed notice of a pending lawsuit with the city, the company moved ahead with the lawsuit.

"Filing the suit against him may sound cold and calculating, but we saw his train coming and had to set our defenses," Kjar said. "This has been going on a long time."

SKY also points to the 2011 installation of massive natural gas pipelines at the top of the hill, as well as expansion of the tennis club property at the bottom of the hill that led to the ultimate instability of the land.

"We didn't do anything wrong," said Brad Ferreira, tennis club owner. He said he'd like to keep things out of court, but he has lost business and will have to pay for damage caused by the influx of mud from the slide.

"We wanted it taken care of 10 months ago," he said. "It's very frustrating."

The private business has given the city more time to respond to its own lawsuit, filed in March, and will pare back its concerns if it is compensated for losses, Ferreira said.

Though, now, after months of talks and no visible action, each party is purportedly coming to the table to get started on fixing the hillside, Edwards said.

If approved by the City Council, remediation efforts will include a retention wall at the base of the hillside, filling in cracks and crevices in the soil and reducing the slope at the top of the landslide, as well as re-seeding the area with vegetation. Edwards said that while the land has stopped moving, he's worried about people wandering onto the property and getting hurt.

"With remediation, we can hopefully provide some stability to residents and safety for the community," he said.

Evans said he's elated at the prospects of an agreement and has been wanting that all along.

"This, obviously, has been our focus first and foremost, to get the hillside remediated and properly stabilized and safe again," he said. The Evans' property line has been decreasing as the earth settles below their home and family members have been nervous about spending any time there.

"We're tired of looking at that orange fence," Evans said.

Friday's meeting will be held at City Hall, 10 E. Center, in North Salt Lake, 5:30 p.m.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards