The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Nation & World

May 12, 2013

One by one, homes in Lakeport, Calif., subdivision sinking

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Scott and Robin Spivey had a sinking feeling that something was wrong with their home when cracks began snaking across their walls in March.

The cracks soon turned into gaping fractures, and within two weeks their 600-square-foot garage broke from the house and the entire property — manicured lawn and all — dropped 10 feet below the street.

It wasn't long before the houses on both sides collapsed as the ground gave way in the Spivey's neighborhood in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

"We want to know what is going on here," said Scott Spivey, a former city building inspector who lived in his four-bedroom, Tudor-style dream home for 11 years.

Eight homes are now abandoned and 10 more are under notice of imminent evacuation as a hilltop with sweeping vistas of Clear Lake and the Mount Konocti volcano swallows the subdivision built 30 years ago.

The situation has become so bad that mail delivery was ended to keep carriers out of danger.

"It's a slow-motion disaster," said Randall Fitzgerald, a writer who bought his home in the Lakeside Heights project a year ago.

Unlike sinkholes of Florida that can gobble homes in an instant, this collapse in hilly volcanic country can move many feet on one day and just a fraction of an inch the next.

Officials believe water that has bubbled to the surface is playing a role in the destruction. But nobody can explain why suddenly there is plentiful water atop the hill in a county with groundwater shortages.

"That's the big question," said Scott De Leon, county public works director. "We have a dormant volcano, and I'm certain a lot of things that happen here (in Lake County) are a result of that, but we don't know about this."

Other development on similar soil in the county is stable, county officials said.

While some of the subdivision movement is occurring on shallow fill, De Leon said a geologist has warned that the ground could be compromised down to bedrock 25 feet below and that cracks recently appeared in roads well beyond the fill.

"Considering this is a low rainfall year and the fact it's letting go now after all of these years, and the magnitude that it's letting go, well it's pretty monumental," De Leon said.

County officials have inspected the original plans for the project and say it was developed by a reputable engineering firm then signed off on by the public works director at the time.

"I can only presume that they were checked prior to approval," De Leon said.

The sinkage has prompted county crews to redirect the subdivision's sewage 300 feet through an overland pipe as manholes in the 10-acre development collapsed.

Consultant Tom Ruppenthal found two small leaks in the county water system that he said weren't big enough to account for the amount of water that is flowing along infrastructure pipes and underground fissures, but they could be contributing to another source.

"It's very common for groundwater to shift its course," said Ruppenthal of Utility Services Associates in Seattle. "I think the groundwater has shifted."

If the county can't get the water and sewer service stabilized, De Leon said all 30 houses in the subdivision will have to be abandoned.

The owners of six damaged homes said they need help from the government.

The Lake County Board of Supervisors asked Gov. Jerry Brown to declare an emergency so funding might be available to stabilize utilities and determine the cause of the collapse. On May 6, state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, wrote a letter of support asking Brown for immediate action. The California Emergency Management Agency said Brown was still assessing the situation.

On Wednesday, the state sent a water resources engineer and a geologist to look at the problem. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a representative the next day.

Lake County, with farms, wineries and several Indian casinos, was shaped by earthquake fault movement and volcanic explosions that helped create the Coast Ranges of California. Clear Lake, popular for boating and fishing, is the largest fresh water lake wholly located in the state.

It is not unusual for groundwater in the region to make its way to the surface then subside. Many natural hot springs and geysers receded underground in the early 1900s and have since been tapped for geothermal power.

Homeowners now wonder whether fissures have opened below their hilltop, allowing water to seep to the surface. But they're so perplexed they also talk about the land being haunted and are considering asking the local Native American tribe if the hilltop was an ancient graveyard.

"Someone said it must be hexed," said Blanka Doren, a 72-year-old German immigrant who poured her life savings into the house she bought in 1999 so she could live on the rental income.

The home shares a wall with her neighbor, Jagtar Singh — who had two days of notice to move his wife, 4-year-old daughter and his parents before the hill behind the back of his home collapsed — taking the underside of his house and leaving the carpet dangling.

Doren is afraid that as Singh's house falls it will take hers with it. Already cracks have spread across her floors.

Damaged houses in the subdivision have been tagged for mandatory removal, but the hillside is so unstable it can't support the heavy equipment necessary to perform the job.

"This was our first home," said Singh, who noticed a problem in April when he could see light between the wall and floor of his bedroom. A geotechnical company offered no solutions.

"We didn't know it would be that major, but in one week we were gone," he said.

So far insurance companies have left the owners of the homes — valued between $200,000 and $250,000, or twice the median price in the county — dangling too. Subsidence is not covered, homeowners said. So until someone figures out whether something else is going on, they'll be in limbo.

"It's a tragedy, really," contractor Dean Pick said as he took photos for an insurance company. "I've never seen anything like it. At least that didn't have the Pacific Ocean eating away at it."

___

 

1
Text Only
Nation & World
  • High court nixes $3.4M award to child porn victim

    The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view their images online, throwing out a nearly $3.4 million judgment in favor of a woman whose childhood rape has been widely seen on the Internet. Two dissenting justices said Congress should change the law to benefit victims.

    April 24, 2014

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    To help veterans leaving the military as it downsizes, the government on Wednesday started a one-stop job-shopping website for them to create resumes, connect with employers and become part of a database for companies to mine.

    April 23, 2014

  • US weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Obama administration is encouraging many nonviolent federal prisoners to apply for early release — and expecting thousands to take up the offer. It's an effort to deal with high costs and overcrowding in prisons, and also a matter of fairness, the government says.

    April 23, 2014

  • Missouri executes inmate for 1993 farm slaying

    Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

    April 23, 2014

  • Pro-Russian insurgents hold US journalist captive

    Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine admitted on Wednesday that they are holding an American journalist, saying he was suspected of unspecified "bad activities."

    April 23, 2014

  • Beautiful Bulldogs.jpg Lucey is tops in Iowa's 'Beautiful Bulldog' event

    Lucey is a slobbering 18-month-old pooch whose human family dreams of making her a therapy dog.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sherpas leave Everest; some expeditions nix climbs

    Sherpa guides packed up their tents and left Mount Everest's base camp Wednesday in an unprecedented walkout to honor 16 of their colleagues who were killed last week in the deadliest avalanche ever recorded on the mountain, climbers said.

    April 23, 2014

  • FBI investigates suspected serial child molester

    The FBI asked for the public's help Tuesday to identify at least 90 potential victims of a suspected child predator who worked at 10 American and other international schools abroad for more than four decades before committing suicide last month in Minnesota.

    April 22, 2014

  • Australia signals deeper search for Malaysian jet

    Australia may use more powerful sonar equipment that can delve deeper beneath the Indian Ocean in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet as the prime minister said Wednesday that failure to find any clue in the most likely crash site would not spell the end of the search.

    April 22, 2014

  • Tech boom presents new wrinkles for Wrigley Field

    During a recent game at Wrigley Field, John Weber was using a pencil and scorecard to expertly track the game between his hometown Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 86-year-old retired transit worker figures he is an increasingly rare kind of baseball fan.

    April 22, 2014

More Resources from The Herald Bulletin
AP Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Helium