Wednesday, April 23 2014, 09:23 AM MDT
Disappearing Groundwater Causing WVC Homes to Sink
(KUTV) Over the past two and a half years, what began as a small crack in Juli Wallace's townhome has become a massive crevasse that exposes the sky from inside her son's bedroom. Her house is pulling away from her neighbors'. From outside the home, you can see the walls stuffed with blankets used to keep birds and rodents out while keeping heat in.
Brandi and Justin Jennings live a block away in the same West Valley City townhome community called the Balmoral. Through a crack between their upstairs bedroom wall and the floor you can see the kitchen below. The cracks are worse in their daughter's bedroom across the hall.
Juli says that approximately 25 townhomes in the 16 year old Balmoral community in are affected by these sudden cracks. The affected residents complained to West Valley City which commissioned a report revealing some disturbing news. The earth beneath the homes is "very soft and loose," the report says.
Engineers have proposed a few possible fixes but each would cost tens of thousands of dollars per home and insurance companies have said they do not cover home settling. Now these residents don't know what to do.
"How are we supposed to fix this?" Brandi asks.
"So we just leave it?" Julie asks. "Do we foreclose it because you can't live here?"
Angry and wanting to know how something like this could happen, these residents decided to Get Gephardt.
Get Gephardt began our investigation at West Valley City Hall where we found public records that warned of the dangers of building that community. A soil report from before the homes were built warns that the soils are "very soft and highly compressible and will not be suitable for direct support of the foundation." Still, West Valley City issued a permit to the developer. The permit, too, was ominous, stamped with a warning of a high water table.
Ed Domian is the chief building inspector for West Valley City. He agrees that the initial report warns that the soil is soft but he says the soil conditions in the past 16 years, somehow, have become a lot softer.
"We're not 100% sure why they changed. That would take more testing by an independent geotechnical engineer. But the conditions, we believe, changed and that's what's causing the problem," Domian said.
Hamlet Homes built the Balmoral community. The company's president is John Aldous. Like West Valley City, Aldous says the ground becoming softer was unpredictable and his company stands by the way the homes were constructed.
"They're not falling into the earth," Aldous said. "They've settled a few inches."
So, how did the soil become softer? West Valley City commissioned a new report which shows that the groundwater has disappeared though why is a mystery. The report suggests dry weather could be to blame but it also points the finger at the home owners association saying that their decision to water the lawns less and drain a retention pond a few years ago could account for the sudden drop in the water table.
Get Gephardt took those accusations to the Balmoral Homeowners Association. Their lawyer told me the report is wrong to cast the blame on the H.O.A. And in a statement, the H.O.A said, "it is the homeowners' responsibility to repair damaged foundations."
Despite the damage that exists today in the Balmoral community, none of the people who had a hand in its construction and inspection say they would build it any differently today.
Juli says structural engineers have inspected her sinking home and said that, it may look catastrophic, but for the time being, it is not in danger of collapsing.
By Matt Gephardt
Produced by Michelle Poe
Edited by Amber Monio
Photography by Brian Morris and Mike Sadowski
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)