Some of the first heavy rain showers of fall recently fell on Astoria. Just another reminder that winter is around the corner, but for homeowners in the Uppertown area who have been affected by the recent land movement the reminder was anything but welcome.
Loren Mathews, an Astoria city councilor who owns a house on Harrison Avenue, said the rain earlier this week doesn't concern him too much - he is worried about the coming winter.
"I guess we need rain, but hopefully it's not a real wet winter," he said.
He now lives on Seventh Street because the house on Harrison was damaged so much by the moving ground in Uppertown, Mathews wasn't comfortable there anymore. He said he hopes the move is a temporary one - just for the winter.
Part of that has to do with work being done by the Portland firm Landslide
Technology. It is studying the earth movement to determine the best way of slowing
or stopping it with an interim strategy for the winter, he said.
Mathews said if the firm has some encouraging news he would "feel a little comfortable" going into the winter.
A conclusive explanation behind the land movement has not yet been found, and probably won't until after months of litigation. However, many homeowners blame two construction projects in the area: stone piling work done to stabilize the foundation of the new Safeway and the excavation of the base of the hill slope for a commercial development. Both projects are near the area of the movement.
Astoria's Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said he's seen nothing new to suggest that any of the recent rain has had an appreciable affect on the movement. He said some sewer lines did have to be repaired recently, but those breaks were determined to have been caused by old age not the movement.
Draft engineering reports by Landslide Technology have been reviewed by outside sources and Mitchum said "all indications are positive."
Because of the preliminary nature of the work, Mitchum said he didn't want to go into too much detail, but he did say nothing from Landslide Technology's work have raised any serious concerns.
He said more information should be available at the Astoria City Council meeting Monday.
One other plan that had been discussed when the movement began, is modifying home gutter systems so that they drain directly into the city's storm water system. Mitchum said the city has "a person lined up" who may begin to help get that started as early as next week.
That strategy would be designed prevent the gutter water from adding to the saturation of the ground in Uppertown during the rainy season.
Despite what may be proposed by Landslide Solutions, Larry Allen doesn't expect to live in his home again. His house is perched above where the excavation work was done, and Allen said it is so far damaged he and his wife Nancy can't believe it could every be made safe again.
"My wife says she will not reoccupy that house. She doesn't believe anyone could tell her it's safe," he said. "I don't blame her. You can't fault her for that."
He said he's worried about the coming rainfall based on his own observations of information collected by Landslide Technology's inclinometers monitoring the movement. The data is posted regularly on the city's Web site, www.astoria.or.us. Allen said he believes it shows the ground is moving at about the same rate since it started.
With that happening, he said he hates to think of it being accelerated by rainfall.
The Allens are living in an apartment right now, a temporary solution that Allen said could extend indefinitely because he likely won't move until the issue has been resolved in the courts.
Allen's attorney, Charles Hillestad, has filed a tort claim against the city for the cost of the damage to the Allen's home, its value and the cost of moving and protecting their property.
The claim states that Jim Wilkins Construction Co. the firm that excavated the hill and built a retaining wall for the property owner Skip Hauke are liable for the "destructive earth movement."
It also faults the city for allowing the excavation to be finished before the retaining wall was built, allowing vegetation to be removed and allowing the retaining wall to be selected "primarily for its cheapness rather than strength."
Wilkins has previously declined comment on the advice of his insurance company.