Human Interference, Nature to Blame for Sinking Homes

Buffalo, NY – Soil problems have been blamed for severe damage to about 200 homes in affluent subdivisions of Amherst. But geology experts and one town official say the problem may be at least partly human interference.

Amherst Town councilmember Bill Kindel says the calls and complaints keep coming. Amherst Town officials are scrambling to answer the concerns now of about two hundred homeowners who say their houses are falling apart. And he says that could mean damages in the millions. But safety may be an even bigger concern.

The problem became public Monday night when the first group of about one hundred residents delivered the shocking news at the Amherst Town Hall. Kindel says the first priority is getting financial assistance, possibly federal aid. Homeowners are facing repair bills ranging anywhere from $3,000 to more than $100,000.

The affected neighborhoods are adjacent to portions of Amherst and Clarence which were undermined by the former National Gypsum Company. The mines were abandoned years ago, and then filled with water. But Kindel says that pumping stopped a couple years ago - and he suspects that may be part of the problem.

UB Geology Professor Michael Sheridan says sudden drops and changes in the flow of water could drastically alter area water tables, ultimately making soils unstable. And he says the fact that the area is also underlain with minerals, such as gypsum, lime and other soluable materials could further weaken soils.

Dr. Ross Giese is a UB geologist who specializes in clay, the soil which is being blamed for the problems. Giese says fine soils like clay are quiet variable, even under natural conditions. Add to that human interference and Giese says problems are almost inevitable.

Town councilman Bill Kindel says the town will be seeking answers from host of experts, including the Army Corps of Engineers. He suspects they'll find a combination of natural and human factors, including possible over-development.

Kindel says it's possible the town could be held liable for damages. And it's unknown yet how many more complaints there will be. But Kindel says the important thing is finding out how this happened, so the same mistakes aren't made in the future.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear Joyce Kryszak's full report.