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THE CATSKILL GEOLOGISTS: Climate change in Columbia County, Part 6: When a home slides, its a window through time


WE HAVE BEEN COVERING the issue of landslides and climate change these past several issues. It is a complex, multifaceted problem, but there is also a whole human dimension to the issue. Sometimes people can get caught up in a slide. They can lose their homes and they can even lose their lives.

Fortunately, no one has died in any of the recent landslides of our Hudson Valley, but people have lost homes. We met one such family. They are Richard and Teresa Kreig of Germantown. Back in 1993 they built a home on a parcel of land just a little north of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. And we mean they built it; Richard constructed the house on his own. It was to be their family home, complete with a deck overlooking a steep slope. When it was finished, they moved in and lived there for 15 years. What the Krieg’s could not know was that they had built their home on the silts and clays of Glacial Lake Albany. It was just the sort of geological situation that we have been writing about lately.

Those steep slopes, especially during rainy seasons, are prone to landslides. That, apparently, is what happened in 2005. Teresa Kreig was home alone when she felt jarring motions coming from the basement. The cinder block wall down there was breaking up. The house had begun to slide. It was a nightmare.

Light from outside illuminates this basement wall, which separated from a Germantown house in 2005. Photo contributed

It only got worse. They learned that landslides are not covered by homeowners’ insurance. Their house would be a total loss and they would be wholly responsible. These are good people. Richard set to work dismantling the old house and recycling as many building materials as he could. They would construct a whole new house. But, where?

We caught up with them when they had begun excavation for the new house. It was located on property just a city block or so to the north. They were very interested in our opinions of the new site. We looked it over and were very happy to report that it looked good. The new site was located on a broad, flat landscape; it lay upon the flat bottom of Lake Albany. The excavation had cut into surprisingly coarse sandy sediments. The new site would be well drained and, more importantly, it would likely be very stable. No landslides should threaten the new house.

Years later we revisited them in their new home. Richard completed it in 2009 and they have moved in. They took us over to see what is left of the old house. We quickly found the curved fractures of typical rotational slides. Several of them lay immediately beneath the foundation of their old house. See our illustration.

This is a real story about how landslides can disrupt real lives. In the end the Krieg’s are getting on with their life. They are doing better, and they deserve that.

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