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Second Appeal Analysis
PA ID# 015-99015-00; Cowlitz County
PW ID# 687; Road and Embankment Repair
Heavy rains from November 2, 2006, through November 11, 2006, caused the slope supporting a cul-de-sac on Sunset Place to fail and damage a section of roadway approximately 120 feet by
22 feet by 2 feet deep. The estimated dimensions of the slope failure are 120 feet long by 45 feet wide by 20 feet high, with a head scarp varying from 1 to 3 feet high. A water line broke in the vicinity, which contributed to the slope failure.
After conducting a site visit on January 8, 2007, and a field investigation on February 22, 2007, the Applicant’s consultant recommended excavation and replacement of the landslide mass as the most cost-effective project to stabilize and restore the site. The consultant recommended excavation to below 15 feet from the ground surface; because the field investigation showed that the slide surface was at a depth of 15 feet. The recommended repair also provided for subsurface drainage. The consultant’s cost estimate for the repair was $332,000.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initially prepared PW 687 based on the scope of work recommended by the Applicant’s consultant. A FEMA Project Specialist reviewed the cost estimate submitted by the Applicant and determined that the unit costs used were reasonable. However, the Project Specialist deducted one lump-sum cost of $12,000 for “miscellaneous construction” from the cost estimate. After applying 7.7 percent for State sales tax and 10 percent for design and construction, and including actual costs incurred of $7,223 for geotechnical services, the Project Specialist recommended approving $306,509 for the Applicant’s proposed scope of work.
During the review process, FEMA engaged a geotechnical specialist to determine whether the slope failure may have been caused by a pre-existing condition. A geotechnical specialist visited the site in on January 3, 2008, after the Applicant completed the slope and road restoration using the repair method described above.
The geotechnical specialist concluded that there is evidence of site instability prior to the declared event, based on the following:
- A memo prepared by the Applicant’s consultant, dated March 12, 2007, which included a statement that slope stability issues are common in the area
- A stability analysis indicated that the slope did not have adequate stability prior to the declared event
- The Project Officer documented evidence of prior road repairs during the initial site visit
Based on the geotechnical specialist’s conclusion, FEMA determined that the slope stabilization is not eligible for funding and obligated PW 687 for $27,291 to fund the road repair only.
On June 24, 2008, the Applicant submitted an appeal requesting that FEMA approve a total of $306,509 for the slope and road restoration. The Applicant included a letter dated
February 5, 2008, from its geotechnical consultant addressing each of FEMA’s geotechnical specialists’ points regarding evidence of pre-existing instability at the site. The Applicant’s consultant stated that they observed no evidence of ongoing or historic slope movement during a site visit performed on January 8, 2007. The consultant noted that the site location is in an area with common slope stability issues does not mean that a pre-existing instability existed at the site. The Applicant’s consultant also addressed the stability analysis, stating that it was based on the post-slide friction angle and could not be used to assess the pre-slide stability. Neither the Applicant nor FEMA’s geotechnical specialist performed a pre-slide stability analysis.
Lastly, the Applicant states that there was road damage at the site due to a previous flooding event (FEMA-1100-DR-WA) in 1996. The damage was caused by the clogging of a culvert and drainage ditch and was limited to roadway damage. The damage was repaired and no slope instability or failure was caused or observed after the 1996 event. The Applicant asserts that the prior road repairs observed by the Project Officer were most likely the repair of the damage caused by FEMA-1100-DR-WA and should not be considered as evidence of pre-existing instability.
The State of Washington Military Department of Emergency Management (State) submitted a copy of the Damage Survey Report (DSR) obligated by FEMA to fund the repair of damage at the site related to FEMA-1100-DR-WA with its letter transmitting the first appeal. The DSR makes no reference to slope instability.
On October 2, 2008, FEMA denied the Applicant’s first appeal due to the evidence of pre-existing instability at the site. In addition to the evidence discussed above, FEMA states in its appeal analysis that FEMA observed “pistol-butt” trees during the September 2007 site visit that are indicative of slope movement at some time in the recent past. Further, FEMA refers to a statement made by its geotechnical specialist that the results of the field investigation performed by the Applicant’s consultant indicate the presence of a “pre-existing slide zone” at approximately 15 feet below the ground surface. FEMA also concludes that the repair performed by the Applicant was beyond what was necessary to restore the failed slope.
The Applicant submitted a second appeal on January 8, 2009, requesting FEMA approve funding for the stabilization of the slope as well as the road repair. The Applicant states that the method used to restore the slope was necessary to stabilize the site. Its consultant recommended over excavating the slope in order to key 3 to 5 feet into competent material. The Applicant notes that choosing this method of repair does not indicate the intent was to address a pre-existing condition and claims keying into competent material was required to stabilize the slope.
The Applicant reiterates that the slope stability calculations performed by FEMA’s geotechnical specialist and its own consultant were based on the residual friction angle of the post-slide surface, which cannot be used to analyze the pre-slide stability. The Applicant also states that “pistol-butted” tree trunks are not necessarily indicative of slope movement and suggests that shallow soil creep can also result in “pistol-butted” trees. The Applicant’s consultant concludes that the slope failure that occurred during the declared event was not a result of shallow soil creep, but a result of a slope failure at approximately 15 feet below the ground surface. Lastly, the Applicant and its consultant have observed no evidence of a pre-existing slope instability at the site and contend that the slope instability was caused by the declared event.
The documentation submitted with the Applicant’s appeal supports the Applicant’s position that there is no evidence of a pre-existing instability at the site, despite the fact that the site is located in an area where slope failures are common. The stability analysis was based on the back calculation of the post-slide configuration. No pre-slide analysis was performed and low residual shear strength values are not an indicator of previous slide activity.
Based on a field investigation, the Applicant’s consultant identified a slide surface approximately 15 feet below the ground surface. This observation regarding the location of the failure plane does not provide evidence of a pre-existing stability. It simply identifies the depth of the failure that occurred following the event.
Lastly, the presence of “pistol-butt” tree trunks on the slope is not evidence of slide movement and could be related to shallow soil creep. The slope failure that occurred during the declared event was not related to shallow soil creep, but to the failure plane discussed above.
Without evidence of a pre-existing instability at the site and based on the timing of the failure, it is reasonable to conclude that the instability at the site was cause by the declared event. According to Response and Recovery Policy 9524.2, Landslides and Slope Failures, if the restoration of a failed slope is necessary to repair an eligible facility and the site is not stable, cost-effective work to stabilize the slope is eligible for funding if the instability was caused by the disaster. In this case, the instability was caused by the disaster and the slope restoration is required to repair the damaged section of Sunset Place. Therefore, cost-effective stabilization measures are eligible.
The Applicant’s consultant evaluated alternatives for the repair and concluded that the most cost-effective alternative to restore and stabilize the slope would be to excavate and replace the slide mass and install a subsurface drain. Based on the cost estimate ($306,509) initially recommended by the Project Specialist, the method of restoration was cost-effective. Further, the over excavation was necessary in order to stabilize the slope. Excavating the slide mass and backfilling the slope without keying into competent material would have restored the slope, but it would not have stabilized the slope.
The Applicant repaired a private driveway in association with the repair of Sunset Place. In accordance with Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, only the repair of publically owned facilities and certain facilities owned by private nonprofit organizations are eligible for funding. The repair of privately owned facilities is not eligible for funding; therefore, the repair of the private driveway is not included in the approved scope of work.
The documentation submitted with the appeal supports the Applicant’s position that the slope instability was caused by the disaster. The slope restoration was required to repair the damaged section of Sunset Place, an eligible facility; therefore, cost-effective stabilization measures are eligible for funding. FEMA will prepare a version to PW 687 to increase the total eligible funding to $306,509 to fund the slope restoration and stabilization as well as the repair of Sunset Place. The repair of the adjacent privately owned driveway is not eligible for funding and will not be included in the approved scope of work.