As landslide near Jackson, Wyoming, homes and businesses still creeps, so too talks about fix

The Town of Jackson and property owners continue to negotiate how they might divvy up the multimillion-dollar cost to stop once and for all a slow-moving landslide that for a few weeks last April threatened to wipe out dozens of homes and apartments and a few businesses.

Mediated talks between town officials, homeowners and the Walgreen Co. last fall failed to yield an agreement to fund a project to remove earth from the top of the landslide and build a buttress at the bottom to hold back the creeping mass of earth.

Talks continue, however, said Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson. "We're still in the process of negotiating with the partners on what the final mitigation solution will be and who is going to be paying for that," Robinson said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the ground continues to move at a rate of about half an inch per month. The estimated cost to permanently stabilize just part of the landslide zone: $8 million to $10 million.

Complicating matters, the affected property belongs to several different individuals and businesses. Also, what if any human activity might have contributed to the problem remains unknown — or at least not agreed upon by those with a stake in fixing it.

The area a mile and a half from the famous elk antler arches on the Jackson Town Square has a long history of development, including an active quarry more than 50 years ago.

Other significant development includes decades of paving and repaving Jackson's five-lane main drag, West Broadway, and a new Walgreen store. At the peak of the landslide last April, surging ground beneath the chain pharmacy's parking lot crumpled the pavement like a discarded napkin.

Walgreen decided after evaluating the cost of repairs that it will not reopen its Jackson location, company spokesman Philip Caruso said Wednesday.

"We concluded that we would not get our required return on our investment. Our decision was particularly difficult in light of the investments we already made in the community," Caruso said in an emailed statement.

Destruction of a small pump house on the municipal water system remains a problem. People living in homes and townhouses on Budge Drive atop the slide zone still lack sufficient water pressure for firefighting, Robinson said.

The landslide began when a crack opened up beneath a house on a hillside and a few weeks later split the house in two. Officials worried for a time the hill might collapse altogether.

They ordered the evacuation of 42 homes and apartment units April 9. To date, the ranch-style house atop the slide and town pump house near the Walgreen parking lot below have been the only structures destroyed by the event.

The weather at least has been cooperative — not too much rain or snow lately. A spell of soggy weather could undo the temporary earthwork fix that enabled all 60 or so evacuees to return home after about a month.

"They still don't expect any kind of catastrophic release of the slide, and the risk of any kind of rock fall or debris fall is very low," Robinson said.

Town officials are working with Teton County on securing a $3 million state grant for the stabilization project. They've scheduled an April 14 public meeting to update residents on the landslide and remediation plans.


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