In April and May last year, more than a foot of record-setting rainfall inundated the Pikes Peak region, swelling creeks and closing roads due to flooding.
Now the deluge is being blamed for a Colorado Springs Utilities water-line leak that allegedly caused a landslide that damaged a home, several upscale home sites and a Broadmoor golf course.
Homeowner Judith Myklak as well as The Broadmoor and its COG Land & Development Co. have filed claim letters with Utilities alleging the leak soaked their properties, thereby causing lands to shift. The result was millions of dollars in damages and decreases in property values, they say.
But Utilities says the water line break isn't to blame, because the amount of water lost in the break was "not significant."
Myklak alleges in a Nov. 6 letter that on May 12, "a major landslide" damaged her home at 4435 Stone Manor Heights and her neighboring lot, just off the road to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Her claim letter, from a Greenwood Village law firm, says one of two Utilities pipelines — which carry water between Penrose-Fisher and Rosemont reservoirs — was damaged and leaked water prior to the slide, and that Utilities "should have been aware" of the leak and fixed it.
"Ms. Myklak believes that the water leaking from the pipe(s) weakened the earth above it and is the proximate cause of the landslide," the letter says. Besides undermining the home's structural integrity, the slide made her vacant lot "unbuildable and essentially worthless," according to a civil engineering expert hired by Myklak.
She seeks restoration of her property, which the engineer said could cost from $1.8 million to $10.8 million. She also asks Utilities to pay her the lost value of her property, which an appraiser set at $3.275 million. That includes a drop of $2.7 million in the 5,000-square-foot home's value, and the destruction of a nearby 1.24-acre lot, once valued at $575,000.
The El Paso County Assessor's Office values the home, built in 1998 and located on 3.86 acres, at just under $2 million, and the vacant lot at $512,000. County Assessor Steve Schleiker says Myklak has requested those values be adjusted. Based on inspections Schleiker says there was no damage to the home itself, although there was significant damage to the home's parcel, for which the taxable value will be adjusted, though he didn't say by how much.
"The land just gave way and went down the hill," he says. The neighboring lot, he says, wasn't damaged.
According to an engineer's drawing of The Broadmoor Resort Community Filing No. 1, filed in mid-1996, Myklak's property line is about 200 to 250 feet from the water line easement, which is buffered by a preservation easement. The Broadmoor's Mountain Golf Course lies on the other side.
Myklak couldn't be reached for comment. A spokesperson with Myklak's law firm declined to comment and said no decision has been made on filing a lawsuit.
The Broadmoor's claim letter, dated Nov. 5 and submitted by Hogan Lovells law firm of Colorado Springs, says the damage was caused by "CSU's failure to repair, replace and/or otherwise maintain two water pipelines owned by CSU."
The Broadmoor had to close the Mountain Course for repairs due to the landslide, the claim letter says, noting the resort's "significant losses due to net profits and related business opportunities" are estimated at $590,000.
The Broadmoor already has spent $92,975 on repairs, the letter notes, and estimates additional repairs could cost "several millions of dollars."
The landslide also damaged COG Land's five estate lots that the letter says "are currently incapable of being developed and sold."
"COG Land listed each of the Estates with LIV Sothebys [sic] International Realty prior to the incident with an expected total net profit of $12,960,000," according to the claim letter.
The letter then notes The Broadmoor and COG Land "do not admit or concede that the CGIA [Colorado Governmental Immunity Act] applies to their claims, and Claimants expressly reserve all causes of action, claims, and other theories of recovery against the city and/or CSU, including, but not limited to, breach of contract, which arise from or relate in any way to the incident."
The CGIA limits a government's liability, based on the theory that governments provide essential public services, and making taxpayers bear the burden of unlimited liability could disrupt or make those services prohibitively expensive. But immunity under the act isn't ironclad, depending on circumstances. For example, immunity would be lifted if plaintiffs could prove they were injured in a public building that had a dangerous condition that posed an unreasonable risk to the public safety and which was known to exist or should have been known to exist but was allowed to continue due to a negligent act or omission.
Asked to comment on its claim, The Broadmoor issued a statement, saying, "The Broadmoor and COG Land and Development Company were compelled, based on legal advice, to send a Notice of Claim ("Notice") under the mandatory notice requirements of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act ("CGIA"). Failing to comply with those notice requirements could impact a number of rights, including the Broadmoor and COG Land's insurance company's rights, as it relates to property insurance coverage. The City was informed in advance of receiving the Notice that it was being sent out of an abundance of caution and solely to comply with the CGIA."
Schleiker says values of the Broadmoor and COG properties have not been adjusted. "I have not heard anything whatsoever from the Broadmoor or COG Development," he says.
So far, neither claim has resulted in a lawsuit. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says the city itself was a victim of the heavy rains. "Our assessment of the pipe break was that it was caused by the erosive soil that surrounds the pipe," he says via email, "particularly after heavy rains in April and May of last year, and then again over the July 4 weekend." He notes the volume of water lost from the 8-inch pipe in question, installed in 1963, was "not significant based on the estimated volume that was flowing through the pipe at the time." He didn't give a specific volume of water lost to the leak, however.
In letters dated March 8, Utilities denied the claims, noting an investigation revealed "no evidence of negligence" by the city and adding, "This area has been identified as a landslide susceptible area as documented by the Colorado Geological Survey."
Soils that expand and shift after heavy rains or snows have plagued parts of Colorado Springs for years, including the Broadmoor Bluffs area, which lies east of the Myklak home, Skyway, and the Holland Park vicinity northwest of Interstate 25 and Fillmore Street — the site of a major federal buyout of homes ripped apart by a landslide in the late 1990s.
A 1974 federal study labeled areas throughout the city as susceptible to landslides and called for bans on construction in those areas.
But 25 years later, the Colorado Geological Survey found that up to 5,000 homes, many costing $500,000 or more, were built in "potentially unstable, landslide-susceptible hillsides," the Independent reported in 2000. Those areas reach from Cheyenne Mountain to Rockrimmon.
Recently, Schleiker's office adjusted values of 18 homes due to landslides in Broadmoor Bluffs, Broadmoor Hills, Skyway Park and Stardust Mesa near Gold Camp Elementary. Total value reduction: $3.7 million.
It's not just homes that can be damaged. In 1998, a 700-foot stretch of Broadmoor Bluffs Drive on the city's southwest side sank eight inches shortly after it was built. The city sued the developer and in 2007 settled for $1.5 million. The road was fixed by driving 37 caissons, five feet in diameter each, 80 feet into the ground to form an underground retaining wall, according to media reports at the time.