David Rodeback's Blog

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Monday, August 22, 2005
Flooded Basements in Mountain Meadows Are a Bigger Problem for the City than for Homeowners

There has been some mention in the local media (the Daily Herald and the American Fork Citizen) about the flooding of homes in the Mountain Meadows area of American Fork, between I-15 and Utah Lake. This follows some discussion in the comment period of the most recent City Council meeting. According to the amended agenda, the Council will receive an official report on the situation tomorrow evening in its meeting.

Apparently, there's a drainage problem and an issue with a nearby irrigation ditch, but there is also water in basements. The Citizen quotes one local resident as saying they are not interesting in pointing fingers, just in getting the problem solved. That's fine for the residents' problem, to be sure, but the flooded basements pose a larger problem for the Mayor and Council. The water is there because an important City process failed. The Mayor and Council need to find out what the failure was, determine if it is still happening, and keep it from happening again.

The simple fact is, those homes should not have basements. Now that we have something other than a drought year, the inevitable is happening: the basements are flooding.

The plat map reportedly is clear: There should be no basements in that area. This was several years ago; was it clear then? Even if it was not, one might suppose that common sense would have prevented the building of basements so near the lake, where underground water is sometimes so near the surface.

Assuming that the plat map was clear then, here are some things that could have gone wrong with the process. (Not all of these could go wrong at once, but at least one of them apparently did in this case.)

  • The builder was supposed to apply for a building permit and submit plans for the project. The builder should have checked the plat map, or at least noticed there is a lake nearby, and planned not to build a basement.
  • If there was a basement in the plans, the City official who reviewed the plans should have denied the application until new plans were submitted, which didn't include a basement.
  • There should have been at least one inspection during the project. During this inspection, it should have been observed that the actual structure did not conform to the restriction on the plat map. And if the plans submitted did not include a basement, it should have been observed that the structure also failed to conform to the plans.
  • The inspector, upon noting this, should have reported it.
  • The inspector or a higher official should have addressed and solved the problem. (However, one can conceive of the possibility that the inspector might be ordered to be quiet and stop rocking the boat.)

Note that this happened with more than one house. Again, I'm not saying that all these things or any specific one of them happened, but something went wrong with this process. (Something may have gone wrong later, too, when sellers failed to disclose the problem to buyers.)

So what happened? Was it a series of honest mistakes, or was someone doing someone else a favor? Which City employees did their jobs, and which didn't? Is this sort of thing still happening? The Mayor and City Council should find out, should make their findings public, and should ensure that the processes and actual practices involved in granting building permits are sufficient to avoid such problems in the future. They should also ensure that the required inspections actually happen in every case, and that problems found are promptly and properly solved.

Once again, the City has exposed itself to lawsuits by failing to fill a basic function conscientiously.

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