Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie
TALON 

PROBLEMS PLAGUE PIONEER HEIGHTS

 

Jacque Ritchie

The wall that fell in january lies flat on the ground in the back yard of Flo Schriek's home. mike fuller's house is above the wooden fence (you can see the air conditioner on his roof). Fuller fears that his house may also come tumbling down.

Buying a first home can be a daunting experience. For single mom Florence 'Flo' Schriek home ownership came with additional responsibility. As a recipient of an USDA sponsored ECHO rural home loan, applicants like Schriek are required to attend six weeks of classes focused on financial management and basic home ownership skills. Also prospective home owners must help build their own, as well as their neighbors homes. This practice is known as 'sweat equity,' and is a way to ensure self-help program recipients are truly vested in their property and their community. In the north side Aztec housing development of 'Pioneer Heights' there are seven ECHO homes. Besides interviews, copious paperwork, ECHO (Economic Council Helping Others) required home loan/grant recipients to work 30 billable hours a week for a period of seven months. These hours Schriek had to schedule around her regular full time job. Schriek has worked for Elwood Staffing (formerly SOS) for 16 years as a customer service manager. "I would go after work and on weekends. My daughter also put in all of her free time," she said.

"You never really knew what you would be doing everyday, you could be tying rebar for a foundation, we caulked and painted the entire interior of houses, besides a lot of dirt work for plumbing, we put up sheeting on the roofs and exterior walls."

Schriek helped build and moved into her new home on JF Scott drive in 2007. At dawn on January 12, 2017 her world came crashing down. Schriek is originally from Covina, California a suburb of Los Angeles, "When you hear that rumble and the ground started to move, of course I thought it was an earthquake!"

As reported by the TALON in January, no earthquake shook the Pioneer Heights neighborhood that chilly morning. It was a section of a 20 foot high, 120 foot long retaining wall system that came crashing down sending hundreds of tons of soil, rock and cinder block into Schriek's and her neighbors yard. The wall collapse has affected several surrounding properties.

Not only did the collapse cause a huge mess, the damage included the destruction of an outbuilding, a smoker and a picnic table. Schriek's home owners insurance refused to cover the cost of repair and replacement, so on June 16th Schriek, along with her neighbors Matt and Stacy Olguin filed suit in hopes that the court will grant them relief. Attorney Chris Marquez of Kelleher and McLeod law firm of Albuquerque has filed suit in the 11th District Court in San Juan County. At time of printing Petitioners include; Florence Schriek, and Matt and Stacy Olguin. A complete list of defendants was not available at time of printing. The lawsuit seeks an undetermined amount for replacement of failing retaining wall, property damage, court costs, lawyer fees, and whatever punitive damages the court deems appropriate.

Since the wall collapse, life for Schriek has changed. Living within 12 feet of an unstable hillside topped by another badly teetering cinder block retaining wall is extremely stressful. "It's horrible!" Schriek said, "Every pop the house makes, every sound in the middle of the night brings it all back." Schriek 's back yard is completely unusable and her home itself could be damaged by a further collapse. "We are really stuck," Schriek says that her home is currently unsalable, "We couldn't leave if we wanted to." Schriek's 26 year old daughter, Sam has moved her bed into the living room to avoid sleeping in her room which is directly exposed to the compromised hillside.

Structural engineer Garth Glasco of Goff Engineering and Surveying, Durango, came out to Schriek's property to inspect the damage. "It's a very dangerous situation," Glasco said in a recent telephone interview with the TALON. "It's just by the grace of God no one was killed or hurt (in the initial collapse)." Glasco said the reason for the collapse was structural errors. "Basically it (the wall) was not engineered right, if it was engineered at all...it seems like it was just built." As far as the likelihood of further collapse Glasco said, "It's just a matter of time especially with elevated level of moisture and with monsoon season coming it's a real dangerous scenario."

Mike Fullers' home is perched above the Schriek residence to the west. "Personally I'm more concerned about the house than the wall," he said. According to Fuller, his property is moving at an alarming rate, "So far I've lost about 360 square feet of my backyard. I shudder to think what could happen." Fuller has been denied repair and replacement of the retaining wall "Or any subsequent damage" by his insurance company, "They said it was an act of God, so I asked them, 'Is God gonna fix the wall?'" Like many neighbors Fuller is frustrated. "It's not a good situation, if the house goes down (the hill) then I'm stuck paying a mortgage on a worthless house!"

Matt and Stacy Olguin moved into their Pioneer Heights home in 2011. The Olguins' are Schrieks' neighbor to the south and are the parents of two young children ages three and six. The children are no longer allowed to play in their backyard. "We are lucky this happened at six o'clock in the morning, they could have been killed!" Olguin said that living in the shadow of the unstable hillside is, "Totally overwhelming, we are literally between a rock and a hard place!"

According to Ernie Watson New Mexico Public Affairs Specialist for the USDA, "In these self-help programs the USDA acts as a bank." Watson contends that the problems that have plagued the Pioneer Heights neighborhood are the exception not the rule when it comes to USDA funded self-help building projects. "In many cases the self-help homes actually appraise much higher than neighboring homes." Established in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, the USDA 2017 budget is 151 billion dollars, representing about 1% of the national budget. The primary purpose to the USDA is to develop and execute laws related to farming, agriculture, forestry and food production. The USDA also provides low and moderate income rural Americans with grants and low interest loans to buy or repair homes and start small businesses. The ECHO program was a rural development program that helped to promote a better standard of living in rural communities and has been replaced by the RUD or Rural Urban Development program. Currently there are three projects across the state, one in Zuni, one in Columbus and another in Anthony." This year the USDA has provided approximately 1.2 million dollars in grants and low interest loans in New Mexico.

 

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