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Report: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide

Report: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide

The report was released by the city on Monday
Report: Broken water line caused Schenectady landslide
Decarlo Tree Experts take down trees caught in a mudslide at 223 Nott Terrace.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette File Photo

SCHENECTADY — The city released the geotechnical report on Monday that describes what caused the hillslope above Nott Terrace to fail and what steps the city should take to stabilize it.

The report, written by the Dente Group out of Watervliet, indicates excess water from a broken water service line from 11 Barney St., coupled with naturally existing groundwater, caused the hill to fail on Jan. 28.

The details of the report were first told to The Daily Gazette last week by city Engineer Chris Wallin. When asked for further details on the report, the city emailed the full report to The Gazette on Monday.

Wallin previously explained that water from the broken water service line had gone into the dirt basement floor of the Barney Street home, which sat on top of the hill. Since the basement was below the frost line, the water was able to travel through the basement floor and into the hillside, Wallin said.

The report indicated the hill is composed of sand and clay layers. So, water was able to travel through the sand layers, but stopped once it got to the clay layers because it’s impermeable. This left the water to build up with nowhere to go, causing the hillside to fail.

The report also suggested ways to stabilize the hill. It noted, though, that most of the work had already been done and was in compliance with its suggestions by the time the report was published. 

Some of those suggestions included reducing the angle of the hill and filling in the bottom with stone fill.

The stabilization of the hill was done by Carver Companies in mid-to-late February for approximately $94,500.

The report also noted that ice had formed on the hill, which was reported by several of the residents who lived in the houses on Nott Terrace.

The 11 Barney St. home was owned by Bronx residents Vidyawattie and Yashmenie Devi Abraja, according to Schenectady County property records.

City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said the late-January incident was the result of “absentee landlords” who didn’t maintain their property properly.

“The owner of 11 Barney Street was responsible for the maintenance of the building and the water service line, which was leaking and allowed excessive water to build on the hillside,” Falotico said in an emailed statement.

Falotico said the city has not been able to contact the property owners, but said it will continue to try to do so.

The report said city code officials reported that there was “an unknown number, but at least one” water service line failure between the city-owned water main and 11 Barney St. City officials said water service was shut off to the home the Friday before the slide.

There was another water service line break discovered on Dec. 18, but the report said it was 150 feet away from the Barney Street home and didn’t contribute to the slide. It was repaired on Jan. 29.

The city was forced to demolish three structures at the top of the hill, including 11 and 15 Barney St, as well as the garage located at 2 Daggett Terrace, for $73,000. Falotico said the city would seek to recover the cost of the demolitions from the property owners.

When the landslide occurred, it crashed into the back of 223 Nott Terrace. Both city officials and tenants indicated water was found in the basement of the building.

Three of the residents living on the first floor were injured. One of them, 20-year-old Iquann Cornish, was encased in mud up to his neck for nearly an hour before firefighters were able to extricate him.

Cornish was airlifted to Albany Medical Center. Reco Ross, Cornish’s uncle, and his 17-year-old cousin were also taken to the hospital. They were released a few days later.

Both Cornish and Ross have filed notices of claim against the city following the slide. They both said they suffered injuries. Ross also said he suffered property damage.

Cornish also filed a claim against the county due to its involvement in the Schenectady County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan published in 2007. The report included a map showing the ridge where Barney Street is located as being susceptible to landslides.

The fatal 1996 landslide and the 2004 slide occurred on the same ridge.

Ross said the city was negligent in not addressing the water service line leak in a timely manner. Cornish said the city and county failed to not make sure the hill was stable enough.

The owners of 225 Nott Terrace, David and Bruce Baker, also filed a notice of claim against the city. They said they suffered loss of rental income and damage to their property.

Falotico said he doesn’t believe that city is liable for the landslide because the water service line was the responsibility of the homeowner and that the city did nothing to add to the problem. 

When asked whether the city should have notified residents on Nott Terrace about the condition of the hill due to the water service leak, he said no. “The water and sewer maintenance workers had no reason to believe failure in the slope would occur based on what they observed at the time,” Falotico said.

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