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Engineer: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide

Engineer: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide

City engineer says slide caused by excess water from a broken water service line
Engineer: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide
This house at 223 Nott Terrace in Schenectady was struck by mud in late January.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- The late-January landslide that crashed into a home and sent three people to the hospital was caused by a broken water service line, according to the city engineer.

“[A geotech report] concluded it was excess water in the slope due to the service break,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said of the cause.

The water line servicing 11 Barney St. broke in the days leading up to the slide, city officials have said. The water went into the basement, which Wallin said had a dirt floor.

Since the basement was below the frost line, Wallin said he believes water was able to seep through the basement floor and into the hillside, causing it to fail.

The hill below Barney Street is made up of both sand and clay. Experts have previously said that all that was needed to cause a slide on such a slope was excess water.

Several residents said they had seen water leaking out of the hillside in the days before the slide. City officials said they shut off service to the building on Friday beforehand.

When the landslide occurred, city officials said water was found in the basement of 11 Barney St. They also said water was found in the basement of 223 Nott Terrace, the home that was hit by landslide debris.

Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

The home on Barney Street was owned by Bronx residents Vidyawattie and Yashmenie Devi Abraja, according to Schenectady County property records. City officials previously said they attempted to contact the Abrajas but were unsuccessful.

City Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond said the home was considered a vacant property that the owners had walked away from, but water service had not been shut off before the service line broke.

The service line is the responsibility of the property owner, LaFond said. If the city discovers a broken service line, LaFond will notify the property owners so they can do the necessary repairs. He said if it’s a situation where there is no known property owner, they will shut off the water service to the home to prevent any further damage to it "as a courtesy."

He declined to comment on the cause of the landslide or if the city is adjusting how it handles water service line breaks along hillsides.

The landslide occurred during the early morning hours of Jan. 28.

It crashed into the back of a home located at 223 Nott Terrace. Debris from the slide broke through the home, eventually trapping 20-year-old Iquann Cornish.

Cornish said he was encased in mud up to his neck, essentially suffocating him to the point where his 17-year-old cousin had to slap him to keep him awake.

Cornish, his cousin and his uncle -- Reco Ross -- were taken to Albany Medical Center. They were later released.

Ross and Cornish have both filed notices of claim against the city following the slide. They both claim they suffered from numerous injuries because of it.

Cornish said he still has nerve damage in his left leg, causing him to still walk around in a protective boot.

Ross said he not only suffered physical injuries, but also property damage.

Cornish filed a claim against the county because of its invovlement in the Schenectady County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan published in 2007. The report contained a map that showed the ridge where Barney Street is located as being susceptible to landslides.

It's the same ridge where the fatal 1996 slide and a 2004 slide occurred.

Ross’ claim against the city said it was negligent in not addressing the water service line leak in a timely manner.

A notice of claim was also filed by the owners of 225 Nott Terrace, David and Bruce Baker earlier this month.

The Bakers, represented by Christopher Burke, who is also representing Ross, also said the city was negligent in not fixing, maintaining or identifying the water service line leak in a timely manner. The claim also said the city failed to notify the Bakers “the risks to property damage” because of the leak.

The claim said the Bakers suffered loss of rental income and suffered damage to their property because of the slide. It also said the Barkers still don’t know the full extent of the damage to the home.

The hillside was ultimately stabilized in late February by Carver Companies for approximately $94,500.

None of the claims submitted thus far have detailed how much is sought in damages.

The Bakers’ claim also says the city is at fault for allowing 11 Barney St. to “exist on unsafe and unstable ground.”

The city ultimately demolished that home, along with 15 Barney St. and the garage at 2 Daggett Terrace  at a cost of $73,000. The structures were deemed unstable after the mudslide.

Several homes at the bottom of the hill were evacuated following the slide, forcing 27 residents out of their homes. Some of the residents were allowed to move back in.

The owner of 223 Nott Terrace, Joseph Gotwals, said he now has control of his property and can make repairs to it if he chooses.

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