FLORENCE, KY. -- Jeff Aiken's American dream has turned into a nightmare.
The Florence man and his next-door neighbors say they are losing their backyards to a progressive landslide. And they are blaming crews that dug a sewer trench at the bottom of the hillside behind their homes.
“Honestly my wife and I lose a lot of sleep over it,” Aiken said. “We are obviously involved in a lawsuit, which is not cheap, either.”
Over the past three years, Aiken and his neighbors on Belvedere Court have watched in horror as the once-level terrain behind their homes has started to crumble and slide away. They say the progressive landslide has cost them one-third of the value of their homes.
He blames Sanitation District No. 1.
"It's SD1. It's completely their fault,” said Aiken.
Days after Sanitation District No. 1 dug a trench at the base of the hillside to install a new sewer line, Aiken said, part of his picture-perfect backyard had slid away.
“I went down there after they did the work. It just looked like a cliff straight down 20 feet,” Aiken said. “When they cut the hillside out, they took away the stability.”
Now a wooden fence is the only thing standing between his house and very steep and dangerous drop.
Without admitting any direct liability, SD1 and the contractor agreed to pay a minimal $5,000 in damages to the Aikens and $6,000 to the other two plaintiffs in the case. But they say that's nowhere near enough.
“Because of this landslide, we can't sell our home,” Aiken said.
“No one's going to buy a house where you've got the risk of a landslide creeping up,” said attorney Jason Conte, who represents the homeowners.
Conte said the problem with a progressive landslide is there's no way to tell when or where the hill will finally settle.
The solution, Conte said, is to drill a series of concrete piers into the ground to stop any further movement. His appraisers estimate that could cost between $218,000 and $269,000.
"My clients are just frustrated,” Conte said. “What they are looking for is SD1 to make it right.”
Conte pointed out a document in which SD1's own geotechnical engineers recommended that no "unsupported bench cuts be made into the toes of the existing slopes for equipment access or for any other reason."
"They were negligent,” Aiken said. “They didn't supervise the project properly and an accident happened and they need to own up to it.”
When WCPO reached out to SD1, its new director of enterprise communications, Chris Cole, said that "everything is still pending" and that the agency "does not comment on active litigation."
“I just think they're a public entity and they're supposed to serve the public,” Aiken said. “Last time I checked, I’m part of the public.”
Instead, Aiken is stuck with a sinking feeling.
“We’re basically prisoners in our own home.” Aiken said.
SD1’s offer to pay for minimal damages has expired, which means all parties are headed to court.
The Aikens say it's never been about money; they just want the problem fixed -- and soon before it gets any worse.