Governor’s Geologic Hazards Working Group Completes Final Report

By Gary E. Christenson and Francis X. Ashland

Landslides in 2005 and 2006 that damaged houses in approved, permitted subdivisions highlighted a need to evaluate the land-use-regulation process in Utah and identify possible improvements to prevent future losses.

To perform this evaluation, Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. approved establishing the Geologic Hazards Working Group (GHWG), chaired by the Utah Geological Survey, to develop recommendations to improve the subdivision-approval process in geologic-hazards areas, identify responsible parties and resources needed, and determine how state agencies, including the UGS, can help.

Members of the GHWG include local government officials representing cities and counties that have experienced losses from geologic hazards; representatives of the American Planning Association, Utah City Engineers Association, Utah League of Cities and Towns, and Utah Association of Counties; and state government officials from agencies that provide assistance to local governments.

The group held a series of meetings between September 2006 and August 2007 and developed 11 draft recommendations.  Public comments on draft recommendations, chiefly from developers, consultants, and homeowners affected by landslides, were sought at a public meeting in June 2007.

In summary, the GHWG recommends that (1) local governments adopt, implement, and enforce ordinances that effectively address geologic hazards, (2) developers’ consultants objectively assess geologic hazards in pre-development geologic-hazards reports and recommend prudent actions to reduce risks, and the reports be reviewed by professionals acting on behalf of local governments, and (3) developer’s consultants inspect, monitor, and provide final documentation, with local government oversight, that site grading and development conform to specifications.

Other recommendations include possible geologic-hazards disclosure in real-estate transactions, and post-disaster technical investigations to determine causes and identify where the subdivision-approval process failed.

The GHWG determined that state agencies can help local governments principally by providing technical resources and funding to assist in writing ordinances, prepare and update geologic-hazards maps, and assist with other technical aspects of the subdivision-approval process.

Many of the GHWG’s recommendations can be completed with existing resources, but some involve a significant increase in workload to expand programs. The GHWG final report is now complete and will be presented to Governor Huntsman on September 25, 2007.