As ground keeps moving near Md. homes, residents worry

FT. WASHINGTON, Md. (WUSA9) -- As the ground continues to move around 28 homes in one Prince George's County neighborhood, homeowner Tracy Rookard has a simple question: "Who's paying for this?"

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.

Rookard and her 27 other neighbors Piscataway Drive in Fort Washington, Md. were forced out of their homes Monday because the ground is slowly shifting and giving out beneath them.

Prince George's County officials call the development "slope failure." They describe it as a slow motion landslide. Where landslides happen quickly, slope failures happen gradually.

The slide, which began moving substantially Friday, has dropped Piscataway Drive by as much as 4 feet, cut water and sewer lines, and brought down large trees that have crushed utilities in the area.

The county determined that the 28 homes are unfit to live in and have no timetable for when, or if, residents are allowed home.

"Hello? I've got a 30 year mortgage, who's paying for that if you tell me I can never come back into this house again?" asked Rookard, referring to the possible insurance costs that the 28 homeowners may have to endure.

Miles Cullen, Rookard's neighbor, echoes her sentiment. The two were joined by dozens of Piscataway Drive homeowners Tuesday night at a public meeting called by the county to provide an update of the situation and address questions and concerns.

"All our concerns are growing towards the big insurance questions, but really we can't do anything with that until the geologists have completed their studies," said Cullen.

Geologists and engineers are drilling, taking soil and asphalt samples to analyze what's happening and how to fix it but first the landslide must be stabilized before repairs to utilities and the road can proceed.

It's a process that could take weeks to just come up with a solution let alone actually fix the problem. In the meantime, homeowners have to figure out where to live for what, at the moment, seems like an indefinite period of time.

"We're trying to make sure this does not impact the property owners as best as we can," said Aubrey Thagard, Deputy Chief of Prince George's County Public Infrastructure and Economic Development. "This is a process by which we'll move as expeditiously as possible but also as safely as possible."

While homeowners say they too want a quick fix, they do not want the county to rush to judgement on why the ground is giving out. The final determination could impact how much, if anything, insurance companies may cover homeowner costs.

Some think the problem has more to do with infrastructure and less to do with nature after water line breaks Friday and Saturday and further slipping Sunday that rendered the road impassable and brought trees down on utility lines.

"That water main has been leaking for years and to suggest that the rains caused the soil shift which caused the water line break - no, it's too early and they shouldn't be talking like that," said Cullen.

Rookard urged county officials to "Wait until you get the reports" from engineers and geologists.

But that will take time.

"It could be years before we ever get a resolution for people who are really effected by this," speculated Rookard.

While officials won't speculate on time, they admit: "We don't have a plan yet," said Thagard


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