BILLINGS – Homes along Vuecrest Drive in north Billings are crumbling.
“It’s only a matter of time before the whole house comes down,” Dawn Sindelar, whose parents live in a home on Vuecrest, said Tuesday.
This is a result of groundwater seeping out from the drainage ditch that sits above their homes.
The problems began last year, when water was pooling in the backyards of homes. This year, when the water was turned back on in May, the water came rushing back.
Sindelar’s home has bowing walls and major cracks in the walls and foundation, and a newly renovated bathroom was all but crushed. Because of the shift, the gas in their home had to be turned off. They have not been able to use their gas stove in weeks.
Heather Bomb rents a home on Vuecrest and said her problems were compounded by a burst PVC pipe that gushed water out into her yard. Crews came by and put a pump on the pipe, clearing the standing water from her property, but the water continued to flow.
Bomb said her landlord added a pipe to send more water out into the street.
“Yesterday we calculated that you could fill a five-gallon bucket in six seconds,” said Bomb. “It was not a small amount of water still flowing out of here prior to anything being done.”
On Friday night, the Billings Bench Water Association (BBWA) turned off the water and began to empty the drainage ditch to assess the problem.
According to Gary Davis, president of the Board of Directors for BBWA, the area has a nearly 100-year history of seepage from the drainage ditch, and the news of water flowing into yards and homes along Vuecrest was not surprising.
The drainage ditch sits atop a steep slope that leads down to Vuecrest Drive. Davis said the homes there, which were built in the mid-2000s, should never have been built.
“I feel bad for their homes,” said Davis. “Don’t think those homes should have been built there in the first place.”
The homeowners in the area agree, but said no one ever told them of the issues there.
A geological survey was done in 2003 that indicated the area was at high risk for landslide. But despite that, a developer moved forward and the city granted permits.
Bomb said she was told that due to the time that has passed since the homes were built, the property developers are not liable for any damages.
Meanwhile, no one else is claiming any responsibility.
Davis said an engineer and contractor were hired to evaluate the area, along with the stability of the slope, and found that the ground is stable. While the ditch is drained, they will re-line the ditch with a rubber-like liner to keep it from leaking. Davis said the lining is not a permanent solution but should last about 20 years before it must again be replaced.
“It’s another saga in a long history of seeping ditches,” said Davis.
Davis said once they lay down the lining, they hope to start allowing water back into the drainage ditch on Friday, or Monday at the latest, as long as everything stays on track.
In the meantime, families were told insurance would not cover the damages to their homes because it was attributed to ground movement.
Some families in the area said they plan to move this summer.