In an editorial which appeared in the Opinion section of the Salt Lake Tribune today, the Tribune Editorial Board has has echoed my call to have the state investigate the cause of the collapse of the Logan Northern Canal on July 11th which cost a family of three their lives. The Board’s view is:
Herbert backs off State won’t probe canal catastrophe
Updated: 07/27/2009 04:11:02 PM MDT
On July 11 on Canyon Road in Logan, a mother and her children were crushed to death in a mudslide that may or may not have been an act of nature.
When the Logan Northern Canal and the hillside gave way, damaging or destroying seven homes and killing Jacqueline Leavey and her children, Utah governor-in-waiting Gary Herbert visited the site, expressing heartfelt concern. At the time, Herbert said he would work to find the "underlying causes" of the tragedy.
Did the collapse of the old and crumbling canal trigger the deadly slide, or did the slide cause the collapse of the canal? And if the slide came first, was it the result of groundwater from natural springs fed by recent rains, or leakage from the 100-plus-year-old canal, which has more patches than your favorite pair of jeans? And was the failure of the state to regulate Utah’s 1,178 irrigation companies and inspect their 5,300 miles of canals a contributing factor? For the sake of public safety, those are questions that need to be answered.
Herbert’s spokeswoman, Angie Welling, acknowledges that Herbert has the power to order an official probe. But the lieutenant governor, who will become Utah’s 17th chief executive when the U.S. Senate votes to confirm Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as the new U.S. ambassador to China, says he won’t ask the state’s Executive Water Task Force, or any other state agency, to investigate.
The state, Welling said, lacks the statutory authority to investigate, an oversight that state lawmakers should quickly remedy. "No one would have to participate," Welling opined. "To some extent, it would be a fruitless endeavor."
Fruitless? It’s hard to imagine that the irrigation company, which owns the canal, and the City of Logan, which helped maintain the channel and failed to evacuate the neighborhood where the disaster occurred, would thumb their noses at the governor and refuse to cooperate. And even if they would, how do you know until you try? Any insight gained into the cause of this catastrophe could help identify those responsible, and could help prevent another tragedy.
The unofficial postmortem of the canal tragedy seems to reveal the best and worst of Utah.
Emergency responders, neighbors and volunteers turned out by the dozens, working tirelessly to remove debris, recover the bodies, clean the neighborhood and comfort the victims. But the government’s failure to inspect the canal before the tragedy and the failure to investigate the cause speak to a long and unfortunate failure to adequately regulate private enterprise.
With luck ,soon-to-be Governor Gary Herbert will reconsider and recognize the need to find out what happened so that the victims can find some closure and future tragedies can be avoided. We can only hope.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.