Retaining Wall On the Brink of Collapse, City Turns Blind Eye


missoulaOne of the great mysteries of water is that it manages to find the shortest course through just about any material. Yet for one city in Montana, this mystery is also a worry.

In Missoula, Montana residents watch the rivers rise and fall — but most of those rivers are coming dangerously close to retaining walls. Retaining walls are often used to direct water in a certain direction or to prevent soil runoff.

Retaining walls can be made of just about any hardscaping material — such as brick, concrete, cement, etc. — though most walls used in public places such as highways and near public walkways are made of concrete because it offers the most support.

So what happens when a retaining wall fails? Missoula residents don’t want to stick around to find out.

“The placement and insulation are imperative for the longevity of the wall.” says Nicole Onstett, President of landscaping company Artistic Group Inc. “No one likes replacing retaining walls, but unfortunately they are a necessity to prevent water damages to homes and businesses.”

Nate Williams rents an apartment right next to Rattlesnake Creek. He enjoys the location for it’s fly fishing, but the creek can also get very fast and very high during the spring. Oftentimes it becomes a noticeable threat to his property.

“I have seen the river come up within 8 inches of the support beam,” said Williams.

In most places around the city, retaining walls are the only thing used to stop the water from overflowing onto properties, but the walls are badly deteriorating. In one area underneath the bridge on East Front Street the wall is crumbling. “Trees have grown up and broken loose the concrete,” said Williams.

Landscaping can often increase the value of a home by making the outdoor view more attractive, yet for these residents they may not have a yard if the retaining walls fail.

The bridge, built in 1932, is in dire need of repair before next spring — especially the retaining wall. Yet the issue now is who is responsible. Williams and other residents in the area are wondering who’s job it is to maintain the structure.

“The river is considered public property, but the retaining wall is private property,” said Wade Humphries, a floor plains administrator with Missoula.

Missoula city officials have stated that fixing the retaining wall is up to property owners. However, if the wall fails, many wonder who and what could be harmed by the results.

“I’d like to see either the state,the county, or the city be able to come in and do some of the reinforcements of the banks without harming this river,” said Williams.

But for now no one is making any move to fix the structure, so Missoula residents will have to hope that the wall will hold.

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