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Monday, April 16,2012

Owner of Fort St. boulder perch offers to give it to city

By Jim Phillips

The Athens man who owns a ridgetop from which a huge boulder rolled down last month, smashing a local family's car and garage, has offered to give part of his property to the city of Athens, to allow the city to take action to try to avoid future rock slips.

City Service/Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley confirmed via e-mail last week that site owner Michael A. Weiser, of Fairview Avenue in Athens, "has approached me to inquire if the city would be willing to accept a portion of his property for mitigation efforts. Preliminary internal discussions have begun and City Council will be advised of the initial inquiry."

Weiser said Sunday that he would like to give the city the part of his land that includes the ridgetop along Fort Street, both to get a problematic piece of property off his hands, and to clear the way for the city to deal with any safety risks that the site may still represent.

"I don't personally have the capacity or the resources to take care of something of this magnitude," Weiser explained.

Last last month, a rock estimated to weigh more than 100 tons dislodged itself from the ridgetop, rolling down and crushing a vehicle and part of a garage owned by Tim and Diane Pfaff of Fort Street.

The Pfaffs are reportedly having problems getting their home insurance to pay for the damage, though they declined to discuss this issue, as they are still in discussions with their insurer about it.

Tim Pfaff did say this week that he believes the city should take some type of action to mitigate the risk of any further rock slippages. According to Moseley, the city, with Weiser's permission, has planted monitors on the ridgetop, and has not detected any new motion from the remaining rocks for about three weeks.

"We kind of feel like it's a possible safety issue, and so the city has a responsibility (to deal with it)," Pfaff said. "If there were a land mine up there, the city would be getting rid of it. How is this any different?"

Weiser said the parcel of land that includes the rock-slip site also includes his home and yard on the other side of the ridge. While he obviously doesn't want to give away his home, he said, he believes it would be in the best interests of both the city and himself for him to cede the city ownership of the ridgetop area, so it can try to shore up the remaining rock. City officials have indicated that they are limited in what they can do on the site as long as it is private property.

Pfaff, meanwhile, said that while he and his wife are grateful for the prompt response by city crews the night the rock fell, they continue to feel grave concern that another slip might occur at any time, posing a serious risk to his family and his neighbors.

"I feel like it's a safety issue," he repeated. "There's nowhere to go… Our neighbor has two little girls. Every day that goes by is another day that somebody could get crushed."

City crews have broken up the boulder, hauled some of the rubble away, and used some as fill on the slope facing the Pfaffs' home. The slope has also been partially covered with hay, in an apparent effort to re-seed it with vegetation to help anchor it.

Weiser said the rock slip has prompted his insurance company to suggest that his own coverage may be at risk if he continues to own the ridgetop. He said he hopes the city will be willing to accept a donation of enough of the site to allow city crews to take over maintenance and monitoring of the slope.

"I'd like to retain as much (of my land) as I possibly can," he said.

He added that he, like the Pfaffs, continues to worry about the risk presented by the rock outcropping atop the ridge.

"That boulder (falling) was just a shock to everyone, and to me personally," he said.


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