Uppertown homes left empty by land movementAt least half a dozen homes have been abandoned in Uppertown by owners who say the buildings are so damaged by the current land movement in the area that they fear to live in them any longer.

Peter Gimre said his family should have enjoyed themselves this summer, but instead it was the worst summer ever as they watched their home on 33rd Street, the one place he said "that they should feel safe and secure," be torn apart.

The sidewalk and driveway became so warped and cracked, he said his attorney directed him to surround them with yellow caution tape. That only prompted passersby to stop and stare, which Gimre said made him close the shutters night and day.

In addition to the pavement outside, he said a wall separated from the home and sewage backed up in the basement from a ruptured line.

"My insurance won't cover a dime of the $10,000 of damages," he said.

Those damages are just one of several

rising costs that Gimre said he has to pay. Other costs include mortgage payments on what he said was a worthless piece of property and rent payments for the temporary home he's had to move into.

Gimre's comments came during a meeting of the Astoria City Council. He asked councilors to keep the danger some homeowners face - and the cost they will endure - at the forefront of their minds while they make decisions.

"I'm furious at what's happened to our property and to everybody's property who's on that hill," he said.

The ground began moving in the Uppertown area in early spring. Jim Wilkins Construction Co., whose owners have de-clined comment on advice of their insurance company, was working on behalf of property owner Skip Hauke, former owner of the Sentry Market, on the site across the street from where the new Safeway is being built.

Since spring, homeowners have complained of damage while the city has worked to find a possible solution.

City Manager Dan Bartlett said a private firm, Landslide Technology, has monitored inclinometers bored into the hillside to gain a better understanding of the movement. That firm will eventually provide an interim solution to stop the land movement before the heavy rain of fall and winter.

He said a draft version of that plan has been completed and arrangements are being made for the report to be reviewed by other geotechnical firms that are involved with the Uppertown earth movement, as well as the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Councilor Loran Mathews, whose home has been damaged by the movement, said he's aware of six homeowners who have left their houses.

Jane Tucker, who also owns a home in the affected area, said she would like to see the city's fire chief devise a plan with other rescue agencies in the area so that if heavy rainfall were to trigger a catastrophic slide the city would be prepared. With rain today and more expected, she said such plans need to be in place by November.

Another homeowner asked that the police department step up its patrols in the area to try and prevent homes that are now empty being burglarized or vandalized.

The city's public works department is also working on a problem with a sewer line in 34th Street between Grand and Harrison avenues. Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said city crews and Big River Excavation Co. began work to find the extent of damage and repair the line. He said by addressing the problem early, the city should avoid having excess water get into the land affected by the movement.

Bartlett said the city has also received measurement data by the engineering firm HLB & Associates from surveying work it did in relation to the excavation of the bottom of the hillside and construction of a retaining wall. That excavation, to clear the way for the planned commercial building owned by Hauke, has been blamed by some of the homeowners affected in the land movement as the reason for the slide. The city had requested the information as part of the preliminary stages in a litigation process that is expected to be quite lengthy and involved.

Any definitive reason why the hill started moving has not been determined.

Mitchum said the data compiled by HLB is available for public review at City Hall upon request.

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