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Landslide risk ‘Real Concern’

Floods are not the only hazard homeowners have to be concerned about as the melting begins; the risk landslides pose to Summit County homes is steadily increasing as the soil becomes more saturated, according to Richard Giraud, a Senior Geologist with the Utah Geological Survey.

Unlike floods, which can be predicted, monitored and prepared for ahead of time, landslides pose a sudden and random risk with little that can be done to prevent or foresee them. As developments continue to expand into hillsides and weaken soil, more roads and structures are poised to be affected by a landslide.

"We have significant potential to see landslides this spring, there have already been some minor ones near Pinebrook and Chalk Creek Road," said Kevin Callahan, the Public Service Works Director for Summit County.

One of these recent landslides, which occurred in the Aspen Acres neighborhood near Oakley, pushed a summer cabin off its foundation and knocked out utilities to neighboring homes. The county is anticipating seeing more of such incidents.

"We are very aware of the conditions and observing any changes. If there is lots of water coming out of a hill, that is reason for concern that a landslide could happen there," said Callahan. "Little else can be done to prevent a landslide, even when an at-risk area is identified."

Giraud’s office is hesitant to estimate the number of landslides that Summit County has in store until more snow begins to melt. "If it is warm for seven to 10 days in a row and the snow melts more than an inch and a half per day, then we are going to see a major risk," said Giraud. "It all depends on how fast the snow melts."

The more delayed the snowmelt, the greater the risk; a risk that is only compounded as recent rains contribute to soil saturation.

"As of now, Summit County is not one of the areas we are closely monitoring. As more snow melts and the higher terrain is exposed, we are expecting to see a lot more [landslides]," said Giraud.

Giraud and Callahan said they are aware of no specific neighborhoods that are at risk, but certain geographical features can increase the odds of a home being affected. "We see a number of landslides occur each year that affect subdivisions built on pre-existing landslide area, an inherent risk that homeowners should have looked into prior to building," said Giraud. Other factors that can contribute to a landslide include houses that cut into steep slopes, thin or weak soil and improper irrigation.

"If a homeowner has a slope on their property and inadequate drainage, then the irrigation will seep into the slope and add to the fracturing, increasing the possibility of a landslide," said Callahan.

Callahan called the current Summit County building regulations in high-risk areas adequate and said that emergency services are in place to assist in occurrence of a land-slide.


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