Routt County Road and Bridge employees were placing large rocks along Routt County Road 14 to stabilize an area where a mudslide occurred Sept. 6.
Steamboat Springs A broken water pipe could be at least partly to blame for a mudslide in the Tree Haus neighborhood Sept. 6.
Valerie Perea, who owns the property where the mudslide occurred, initially placed blame for the mudslide on Yampa Valley Electric Association crews that had dug a trench near the hillside before it gave way. This week, Perea said the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District should have caught the leak after being called to the scene of the mudslide Sept. 7.
Perea said the failure to identify the leak could cost her more than $10,000 because of work she hired Native Excavating to do after the mudslide.
The broken water pipe, a 40-year-old, three-quarter-inch copper pipe, could have been leaking for weeks or months, and was only found because of the slide, she said.
"Someone should have caught it," Perea said. "If they had, I would not have had more of my property wash away."
Jay Gallagher, the water district's general manager, said officials responded to the mudslide area twice Sept. 7 - once when called by Routt County Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper and a second time to respond to Perea's request that the company test the water for fluoride and chlorine. However, Tree Haus does not fluorinate its water, and chlorine becomes undetectable after it hits the air and seeps in to the soil, Gallagher said.
Draper said he called Mount Werner Water officials after realizing a significant amount of water was still draining down the hillside, making the county's task of repairing the ditch at the bottom of the hill difficult. Since the Sept. 6 mudslide, portions of the hill have continued to slide, and likely will continue to do so, he said.
Water district officials check-ed sewer laterals, service lines and water mains to make sure there were not any breaks or that any of the Tree Haus infrastructure was involved in the slide, Gallagher said.
Gallagher likened Perea's situation to calling in a plumber after the fact, and then blaming the plumber for the problem.
"Our job is to see within a reasonable scope if we can detect a leak," he said. "We don't go looking for problems."
Gallagher said it's possible Native Excavating crews found the leak because they were working close enough to the affected area to hear a hissing sound coming from the ground.
Water officials returned to the slide area Sept. 15 to turn off the water for Native Excavating crews to repair the broken water line, a curb stop and eventually the road, Gallagher said.
Gallagher said Tree Haus has its own water supply, and that the water district's role is to service those lines, test the subdivision's water for compliancy purposes and respond to emergencies. Tree Haus has an annual contract with the district for the work, he said.
"I feel very badly for Valerie's situation, to find your real estate peeling away is a real tragedy, but it's not the result of negligence or otherwise on the part of Mount Werner Water," he said.
Similarly, Draper said he doesn't think the work YVEA was doing at the base of the hillside caused the mudslide.
"I knew that area on the hill was pretty unstable to begin with, but a 42-inch dig felt pretty minor," Draper said of YVEA's trench work. "I'm not buying (that) the electric line thing set this off, and (Perea) knows that."
Jim Chappell, spokesman for the Yampa Valley Electric Association, said he couldn't comment on the ongoing investigation.
"YVEA's investigation into the property owner's allegations is not complete at this time," he said. "Any statement on our part would be speculative."
Perea acknowledges that several things came together to create her problem, but she wants those responsible for some of the damage to pay for it.
"One thing didn't cause (the slide), it was a multitude of things. I call this the perfect storm. I've had the perfect storm," she said Tuesday. "The key was the (YVEA) trenching."
Perea said she has been talking to local law firms about pursuing legal action to "get her slope fixed."
The Tree Haus Metropolitan District will be responsible for paying for the repair to the water line, curb stop and road, Perea said.
Road and Bridge crews have been placing rock along River Road to repair the damaged area before moving to another project replacing bridges on Lynx Pass, Draper said.
"We've been hitting it hard because we're going to leave in a couple weeks," he said.
The county already has spent about $13,000 on the project and is expected to fork out between $5,000 and $8,000 more before the project is complete, he said.
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