“It was engineered to the best of peoples’ ability”
A roadside retaining wall on a steeply cut hillside in Mt. Crested Butte is slowly failing, and while the road accesses a handful of condominiums, it’s up to the town of Mt. Crested Butte to fix. The retaining wall is now eight years old, and the town has budgeted $60,000 to fix it, but town officials say it could cost more.
The town of Mt. Crested Butte has been keeping an eye on the retaining wall along Snowfall Drive since it began leaning out of plumb in 2006, according to town manager Joe Fitzpatrick. The troubled section of retaining wall is about 10 feet high, lies directly below the Villas condominiums, and is used to access the Snowfall Point condominiums.
According to community development director Bill Racek, the town built the road to access an undeveloped parcel of land. The land was later bought and developed into the Snowfall Point condominiums.
Mt. Crested Butte finance officer Karl Trujillo says the town has budgeted $60,000 for the repair of the wall, but Fitzpatrick says it will likely cost more.
Fitzpatrick briefed the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council on the retaining wall situation during a regular meeting on Tuesday, July 15.
The town has been working to find a solution to repair the wall since 2006. After a decorative rock covering was removed last summer, the town attempted to hire a soil nailing contractor to stabilize the wall, but decided to change directions when nobody took on the project.
In January, Mt. Crested Butte hired CTL Thompson to perform a geotechnical investigation, which engineering firm Schmueser Gordon Meyer then used to design a second cantilever retaining wall. The sidewalk and a section of the road will need to be removed to pour the foundation for the cantilever wall, Fitzpatrick said.
The town is now looking for bids for the construction of the second wall, scheduled to begin this summer or fall.
Fitzpatrick said there does not seem to be any immediate risk of the wall collapsing.
Council member Mike Kube asked if there were any usable mitigation fees or if any landowners would be accountable.
Fitzpatrick said it would be up to the town to fix.
After the meeting, Racek said the town is investigating whether the engineer who designed the wall can be held accountable for structural problems that have occurred years after the wall was first built. “The reason we hire an engineer is we rely on their professional expertise,” he says.
“The issue really is, to me, whether or not an engineering firm really stands enough behind their work,” Racek says. “So if there is a failure they’ll actually do something, whether it’s providing free services or paying for damages.”
Without accountability written into a service contract, Racek says, the town would have to sue the engineering firm in civil court for them to take responsibility. Whether or not that should happen, he says, hasn’t been decided in this case. “The town has incurred a lot of expense in relation to Snowfall Point… At some point the town needs to decide enough is enough,” he says.
At the meeting, Kube asked if the town should enforce stricter engineering principles when roadways cut into a steep hillsides are approved. “Maybe we ought to start moving in direction of the Army Corp of Engineers, where we over-design things,” Kube said.
Fitzpatrick said, “I’m not sure there’s anything we can change. We can look into what the code required for the engineering of walls. It was engineered to the best of peoples’ ability when it was put in.”
After the meeting, Fitzpatrick said the new wall should be a permanent fix. “We want it to stay there for the next 100 years.”