Frustration mounts as Everett hillside slips

EVERETT — Frustration with the city continues to mount for neighbors in the Valley View neighborhood, where a sliding hillside has forced people to abandon three houses.

With another rainy season under way, a group of homeowners has hired engineering consultants to study why the slope has been moving deep underground. After that, their next step might be hiring a lawyer.

The neighborhood group is convinced that a city stormwater system upgraded in 2004 has caused the land to erode.

“I think we’ve been wronged here as neighborhood,” said Jay Himmelman, who still lives in his Panaview Boulevard home, but isn’t sure for how much longer he’ll be able to stay.

Over the past couple of years, Himmelman has watched his back yard sluff away, and has built a wall to try to keep it from getting worse. He thinks stormwater feeding into the creek has weakened the hillside.

“In my mind, it’s pretty clear,” he said.

So far, the city has paid about $35,000 to examine the problem, contracting with a Bothell geotechnical firm to make observations and map out the unstable hillside. While the city hopes to get a more detailed look soon, nothing to date suggests the stormwater system is making things worse, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

“We have not found any information whatsoever that would point to any of the city’s public works systems affecting that situation,” Reardon said. “This is simply naturally occurring.”

The problems with shifting ground in the southeast Everett neighborhood became impossible to ignore in late 2010.

By February 2011, the city had yellow-tagged a house on Burl Place, a cul-de-sac. That essentially means “enter at your own risk.”

At that point, the city started to take a greater interest in the problem, to make sure nobody was in harm’s way. The area in question is private property, so the city’s interest has been public safety, Reardon said.

In March 2011, the city red-tagged the Burl Place house. A red tag means “do not enter.” A week later, the city returned to the neighborhood to yellow-tag two nearby homes. Soon, they red-tagged one of those houses, too.

Later that spring, the city hired HWA GeoSciences Inc. of Bothell to make observations about the hillside’s movement.

This September, the geotechnical firm produced a detailed map of the slide area, showing land movement, seeps and cracks, Reardon said. The city shared the map with neighbors. The city hopes to have the consultant perform additional work with soil samples to provide a more detailed picture.

Meantime, the first red-tagged house now has all but crumbled away. Inspectors deemed the third yellow-tagged home unsafe, and red-tagged it in May.

Rob Lund and his wife have moved from their home, the second red-tagged last year. They were able to relocate to nearby Eastmont, though it did saddle them with a new 30-year mortgage that won’t be paid off until they’re in their 90s.

Lund said he’s worried about his former neighbors who lack the resources to pick up stakes.

“I just don’t want anyone else to suffer,” Lund said.

Lund and Himmelman said eight houses in their neighborhood are in imminent danger, plus another two down the hill from them. With the obvious problems next to them, even neighbors with intact homes may find it impossible to sell.

The neighbors are puzzled about documents dating from before their area was built out between the 1960s and 1980s, which describe the waterway at the bottom of their slope as a “grass-lined swale.” That’s normally an apt way to characterize a marshy depression in the earth. These days, it’s a rushing year-round creek.

“That little swale is now this deep ravine-chasm-gully-stream thing,” Himmelman said.

They’ve nicknamed it Armageddon Creek.

“We think the creek is part of this whole mess and the city keeps coming back and saying. ‘No, it’s not,’” Himmelman said.

Lund said the creek has washed away the bottom of the hillside, putting at risk everything above.

“Our contention is, visually, that it’s pretty obvious,” Lund said.

The city has been taking steps to address other landslides in Everett, but that’s because they involve public infrastructure, Reardon said. One is along Lowell-Larimer Road, about a mile north of the Valley View homes, where repairs are underway. Another is at Howarth Park, on Puget Sound, where the city earlier this year removed hazardous trees.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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