The Colorado Springs Gazette final

SINKING IN ROCKRIMMON

State moves slowly as two Springs homes slip into an old coal mine

BY MARY SHINN mary.shinn@gazette.com

One of the first signs of trouble with Kenny and Ardith Lindquist’s home in Rockrimmon was the porch — the contractor couldn’t believe how much cement it took to stabilize it.

“He came three times with a cement truck,” Kenny Lindquist recalled.

While the porch still has signs of damage, the two now have much bigger worries because they believe their house is sinking backward into an abandoned coal mine that has collapsed.

As a state-hired drilling crew took soil samples, the couple described years of damage, how a gray water pipe came apart and filled the basement with sewage and basement floors that have sunk several inches and in one place sound hollow.

Along the front of their home, several inches of concrete is newly visible below the stucco that went on 10 years ago, which is evidence of the house shifting back, among other problems.

Their next-door neighbor on Saddle-mountain Road, Austin Rivenburg, has seen similar problems as the back of his house sinks, as well, causing numerous cracks in the foundation, walls and ceiling — all new damage since he bought the house in 2018.

Over a year ago, the homeowners asked the State Mine Subsidence

“It seems like they want to wait until you have this huge gigantic pit below your house and you are halfway down it before they will take action.”

Homeowner Ardith Lindquist

Protection Program, a $4.9 million invested fund, to cover repairs because they believe the mine has collapsed and is causing the damage.

“If they didn’t think there was a problem with these mines, they wouldn’t have started a program,” Kenny Lindquist said.

Colorado Springs is a hot spot for such requests, with residents filing 44 claims to the program between 2017 and 2022, with 22 of those in Rockrimmon, based on maps provided by the state.

Only two claims have been filed from another area of the state in the past five years, said Rachael Nickless, the program administrator. Over that period, the state determined three homeowners had problems caused by mines and they received payments totaling $270,058.30. No homeowners have appealed the program’s decision not to fund damage repairs, the state said.

For the Lindquists and Rivenburg, the process for determining whether the Pike View Coal mine between 200 and 250 feet below their homes is causing all the damage has been slow.

“It seems like they want to wait until you have this huge gigantic pit below your house and you are halfway down it before they will take action,” Ardith Lindquist said.

Investigative drilling

Rivenburg asked for action in September 2022 when he emailed the state to inform officials he had heard a crack in the ceiling and the damage was worsening.

“I would like to take the steps required to stabilize our home before the damage becomes severe and possibly dangerous to my family,” he wrote. In November 2022, he pointed out to the state they misrepresented the findings of a technical report in a cover letter.

The cover letter stated that mine subsidence was not the cause of the damage, while the underlying technical report said more data was required to make a determination. In a follow-up email, the state corrected the error in the cover letter at Rivenburg’s request and stated investigative drilling could start within two months.

State-hired contractors have done investigative drilling at the homes twice, most recently in September.

Nickless said the timeline of the investigation has been affected by supply-chain issues, particularly the availability of drills.

“The timeline really has not gone as we would have hoped,” she told The Gazette.

But neither household has yet received a final determination about the cause of their problems. Nickless said they should receive reports by the end of the year.

To determine if problems are caused by mines or expansive soils, the contractors take soil samples that are then sent to a lab for analysis.

Drilling that finds highly fractured bedrock with unusual fractured patterns and voids can be indicative of a mine collapse, the state said in a written statement. Expansive soils, such as clay, swell with water and contract with drought.

The high number of claims from Colorado Springs is indicative of problems with both expansive soils in the area and the number of homes in the 1970s and 1980s with slabon-grade foundations that are susceptible to damage from those soil types and mines, Nickless said.

“There definitely are big problems in Colorado Springs, as far as geologic hazards are concerned, and swelling soils are a large part of that. … They essentially wreak havoc when they’re so close to the surface as they are in the Rockrimmon area.”

‘Houses don’t heal’

Homes often settle with time. If a house settles uniformly by 2 inches, you might not even notice. But if one area sinks more than others, a process known as differential settlement, it is similar to tooth decay and will get worse with time, said Chadwick Miller, owner of Foundation Professionals of Colorado.

“Houses don’t heal from this,” he said.

Differential settlement can be amplified higher in the house, Miller said. What could be a slight difference in foundation can pull the roof shingles apart, he said. It is rare for houses to fail to the point where they fall or break in half, but it happens.

In Rockrimmon, Miller has stabilized homes sinking into mines using steel piers. The weight of the house is transferred onto the piers and used to push them into the ground until they hit a section of underlying rock or soil that can hold them.

In one case, Millet’s team discovered a mine about 20 feet under a home because it was swallowing up sections of pier. The sections were nested together using gravity and force to hold them together, but as they reached the void of the mine, they fell off.

Miller’s team ended up welding sections of the pier together to keep it together as it descended through the emptiness.

Putting down piers to stabilize a house can cost $30,000$40,000, Miller said.

Less dramatic bowing in foundation walls can be stabilized with carbon-fiber straps, which can cost $5,000-$6,000, he said. Severe problems requiring a new foundation and possibly a basement replacement can cost $100,000-$300,000.

In Rockrimmon, he has seen more foundation problems caused from mines than clay swelling or contracting with moisture. Some homes in the area also can have problems because builders did not include foundation footers, he said. The builders at the time thought leaving off footers would prevent homes from being damaged if the clay swelled and pushed a portion of a house up, known as heaving.

The theory was that without the footer, the outer foundation would slice through the swelling soil. It didn’t work, because the homes in Rockrimmon were experiencing settlement, he said.

Colorado’s protection plan

If the state’s investigation determines a mine is causing a house to sink, the homeowners enrolled in the protection program can receive up to $100,000 for repairs or an amount that would equal the fair-market value of the property before damage from a collapsed mine, according to a state rule. The program is only open to those with homes built before 1989.

While the protection program is similar to insurance, it is not insurance and not regulated by the Division of Insurance, agency spokesman Vincent Plymell said.

Standard homeowner policies also do not cover mine subsidence, and no laws require insurance companies to cover it, he said.

Some states with extensive coal mining, such as West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, have required private companies to provide subsidence insurance. In some problematic areas, insurance for subsidence is mandatory. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Indiana saw 50 subsidence claims and insurance provided $2.9 million for repairs.

The Colorado Division of Mining Reclamation and Safety said the state set up a trust fund because it was “considered preferable to any other legislatively enacted direct state involvement in the insurance business.”

However, Rivenburg pointed to a 1991 report from what is now the Government Accountability Office that said the federal government’s intent for the $3 million grants to states was to set up insurance programs. Colorado’s original grant has grown into a $4.9 million invested fund to cover subsidence.

“This program has been flawed since inception,” Rivenburg said.

“There definitely are big problems in Colorado Springs, as far as geologic hazards are concerned, and swelling soils are a large part of that. … They essentially wreak havoc when they’re so close to the surface as they are in the Rockrimmon area.”

Rachael Nickless, state Mine Subsidence Protection Program administrator

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2023-12-03T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-12-03T08:00:00.0000000Z

https://daily.gazette.com/article/281496461050270

The Gazette, Colorado Springs