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Side Streets: Next-door neighbors warily watch landslide, wonder why taxpayers won't fund improvements

May 20, 2015 Updated: May 20, 2015 at 4:10 am
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photo - Three days of torrential rain, hail and snow caused a landslide May 9, 2015, destroying the backyards of next-door neighbors Monika Buckley and Doris Munson on Fencerail Heights in Rockrimmon. The slide destroyed their backyard fences, three retaining walls and ripped two decks from Buckley's home, seen on May 11, 2015. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette
Three days of torrential rain, hail and snow caused a landslide May 9, 2015, destroying the backyards of next-door neighbors Monika Buckley and Doris Munson on Fencerail Heights in Rockrimmon. The slide destroyed their backyard fences, three retaining walls and ripped two decks from Buckley's home, seen on May 11, 2015. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette 

It's been a stressful week for next-door neighbors Monika Buckley and Doris Munson in Rockrimmon as they've kept one eye on the skies, watching for rain, and the other on the growing landslide out their back doors.

You may remember their story from last week. Three days of torrential rain, hail and snow saturated the ground around their homes, causing large chunks of their backyards to break away and crash 30 feet or so into North Rockrimmon Creek.

The landslide claimed part of Monika's fence and two retaining walls made of large boulders. It reached all the way up to the foundation of her home, which was built in 2005, and ripped the decks off the back of it.

Doris, meanwhile, watched her privacy fence crash down the slope into the creek, followed by much of her retaining wall and backyard. It stopped about 5 feet short of her basement.

They've spent the past week calling engineers, insurance agents, attorneys and city officials seeking help to prevent their homes from sliding into the creek.

On Monday, they finally received some good news when Mayor Steve Bach signed a local disaster declaration in hopes of eventually landing Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to pay for $8 million in storm damage. Of the total, more than $2 million is earmarked to repair the landslide on North Rockrimmon Creek.

But that process could take months, and the women fear their homes will be lost before the erosion is stopped.

"It is some comfort," Monika said, adding that the vigilance of city employees like stormwater manager Tim Mitros, who has visited daily, has reassured her. But she fears the money will be too little, too late.

"Hopefully I'm still standing when it comes through," she said. "It's such a nightmare. It's just awful."

She is so scared that she is packing clothes and important papers in the event she has to evacuate. And there were times during Monday night's downpour she feared the time had come to escape as the creek swelled into a swirling, muddy torrent.

"I was up all night," the 72-year-old widow said. "I didn't go to bed. Every time I heard a noise, I jumped up and dashed out to look. It was a raging river. And this morning my yard is a little more washed out."

Worrying Monika and Doris even more is the history of the creek behind their homes. It was unnerving to learn that in 1999 similar heavy rains induced landslides from the Broadmoor to the west side to Holland Park and Rockrimmon. Eventually, seven landslide zones erupted, claiming 21 homes that were declared uninhabitable. Eventually, FEMA paid $4.1 million to buy the homes and remove them.

One of the seven zones was just across North Rockrimmon Creek from Monika and Doris, where two homes were lost on Spring Creek Court. Today, vacant lots strewn with beer bottles and debris lumber are the only thing left. And from the lots, there is a clear view of the women's homes.

"I didn't know that," Monika said of the '99 landslides. "It's all very frightening."

Doris moved into her home in 2000 and recalls watching the Spring Creek houses being destroyed. She is frustrated that all these years later, drainage areas like their creek have never been fixed to prevent more catastrophes.

"This is really, really stressful," Doris said. "What really upsets me is that everybody in town is complaining about our infrastructure and the potholes and the stormwater system falling apart, but nobody wants to pay for it.

"I've voted for all the initiatives. And when they get defeated, I can't believe it. I guess if it's not right in your front yard, it's not your problem. Well, this is what happens when people don't want to pay for infrastructure in our town."

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Please follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/sidestreets.billvogrin.

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