Wyoming resort town struggles to lessen threat of slow-moving landslide

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 08, 2014 12:52 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Efforts by an upscale Wyoming town to stabilize a hillside whose slow collapse is threatening homes and businesses has been hampered by lack of access to private property where the landslide destroyed a house, a city manager said on Tuesday.

Geologists studying the slumping East Gros Ventre Butte near downtown Jackson, an international ski destination that contains the homes of celebrities like actress Sandra Bullock, say mitigation measures are needed before spring to prevent snowmelt and rainfall from speeding up the slide.

The slide in April tore a house in half, prompted the temporary evacuation of dozens of residents and indefinitely shuttered a new Walgreens at the base of the hill.

Geologists have recommended removing the damaged house from the area that marks the top of the slide to lessen the weight on the slope, but the city has been unable to strike an agreement with the property owners, said Jackson Assistant Manager Roxanne Robinson.

The city also has been advised to install impermeable sheeting at that site, where the slide is most acute, to prevent water runoff from storms and melting snows from deepening cracks and further destabilizing the hill.

But it was unclear if the property owners would permit installation of the protective layer, Robinson said.

City Council members in Jackson this week approved a short-term plan to divert water from some areas affected by the slide to prevent it from accelerating.

But Councilman Jim Stanford said the temporary fix was insufficient and that the city should again approach the property owners about mitigation work "to stave off the slight chance of having a catastrophic slide."

City officials later this week will review actions ranging from easement agreements to condemnation as a way to gain access to the property, Robinson said.

Landslides are common in the region framed by the towering peaks of the Teton Range but rarely threaten people or property, geologists said.

Jackson is a town of roughly 9,500 people that is considered the gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Nick Macfie)