Brush family loses home as creek leads to active landslide

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Ed and Melissa Brush would just like to go home.

Unfortunately, that is no longer an option, as the family’s home on Evans Hill Road near the Switzerland/Ohio County line has been deemed unsafe to live in due to an active landslide in the front yard.

That landslide has now taken a large part of the family’s front yard; trees now lean over; and areas around the home are now sliding towards the creek that runs along the property and Evans Hill Road.

It is that creek and the rock that the Switzerland County Highway Department poured on the side of it to keep the road from slipping into the creek that is at the center of the issue for the Brush family.

“We’ve lived in this house for 10 years, and never had any issue over an erosion problem,” Ed Brush said. “I can tell that on April 11th, the Geotechnical Engineer hired by the county, came and looked at everything and went into the creek, and validated everything that was said before by Pat Conner, who’s the civil engineer who was contracted by the county and sent out, who said that same thing except fell short of saying that the county caused the landslide.”

Ed said that, according to the Geotechnical Engineer, the rock that was placed along the creekbed approximately 12-18 months ago by the county, dislodged and formed a new erosion pattern, which caused the creek to sweep wide, sending the water more directly towards the county’s road, and then it bounces back across the creekbed and hits the toe of the hill that the Brush family lives on.

The new erosion pattern is causing the land beneath the hillside to wash away, which in turn has caused the yard to begin to slide down the hill towards the creek – putting the home and the family’s safety in jeopardy.

“He said that the home is unsafe, potentially life threatening, and that we need to move out of the home,” Ed Brush said of the Geotechnical Engineer. “So now we’re living in Melissa’s parents’ basement.”

All of this has happened very quickly.

“March 15th of this year,” Melissa Brush answered when asked about when all of this started. “I went out to the side yard and noticed what we called a rift, and I really did think it was moles, like weird moles going sideways. So it created a little hill, and then I said something to Ed about it, because I thought it was really weird looking. Then we noticed that the porch and the side steps were turned. Ed called my dad and had him come over, and dad went ahead and jacked up the porch with a car jack.”

Melissa said that the couple was in the process of refinancing their home, and were in the process of getting ready for the appraiser to come for the home inspection. Not really knowing what the issue was, but with no idea the extent of the issue, the couple worked around the house on the flower beds.

A week after the appraisal was approved, the flower beds were a foot lower than they were before.

“It just dropped,” Melissa said. “It started March 15th, and it was at 18-inches the Saturday before Easter.”

“That was when I went down into the creek and discovered this,” Ed said.

Melissa said that Switzerland County officials told the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that the rock had been placed in the creekbed about 18 months ago; but she and Ed felt like it was about a year ago.

“My father-in-law, when all of this happened on April 11th, when we were told to get out of the house, your home is destroyed; had called IDEM, and Aaron McMann, who’s the regional project manager for IDEM for this area, we met with him,” Ed said. “From that we learned from him that there was no permit ever applied for for this work. This was concurred by Pat Conner, the other civil engineer. She was brought out here to give them recommendations for the whole Grant’s Creek basin drainage; there’s never been a permit of any kind ever applied for for this road.”

Ed said that the Army Corps of Engineers will be coming to the site to do its own inspection, since the area is part of the Federal waterway.

Ed said that the bank of the creek is too steep to hold the rock; and said that it was also suggested that stone baskets be used; but Aaron McMann said that the wire cages would deteriorate eventually, causing the same thing to happen.

“He said what needed to happen was that there needed to be a concrete wall that would have to be placed there for that kind of a solution; but he said that even that was something that probably wouldn’t have been approved,” Ed said.

Ed and Melissa said that all of the conversations with the engineers happened in the presence of County Commissioner Steve Lyons and County Highway Superintendent Darrell Keith.

Ed said that after finding out that there was no permit; he asked McMann what the county’s official response was to not having a permit to do the work.

“He said that the county’s response to him was, and I don’t know who because I didn’t specifically ask who he spoke to, but he said the county’s official response was, the prior highway supervisor did it a year and a half ago, and he was fired,” Ed said. “That doesn’t say why he didn’t do the permit, it didn’t say why it got dumped. We heard first hand from Aaron McMann that they said they did it, and the guy that did it got fired. SO, I don’t know who did what. I don’t know the timing of it; but I can tell you that on April 11th, our attorney, Joe Jenner from Madison went over and filed an information request for any and all information that the county had from this mile radius for the last 10 years. Anything that would have involved road work or stream repair.”

Ed said that the final day for the county to provide that information was Monday, May 2nd. That information still hasn’t been provided.

On May 3rd, the couple was interviewed by three television stations and one radio station from Cincinnati.

“We’re very private people,” Ed said. “This is not something we wanted to do. So here we are now. Our home can never be lived in; the ground can never be built on ever again; and currently we’re paying a mortgage on a home we can’t live in. The homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover this sort of thing.”

Ed said that the family can’t get on with their lives until the issue is settled, because if they walk away from the home, the couple’s ability to purchase another home would be crippled because defaulting on the current mortgage would destroy their credit rating.

“I don’t think there was anything special about us,” Ed said. “I think the core of the matter is, in 2008, IDEM unilaterally came out and said that it would no longer fine for permitting violations for state and county governments.”

“Legally they’re still supposed to get the permit,” Melissa said. “My analogy to the whole thing is: if a robber robs a bank, and they tell him, ‘You shouldn’t have done that, that’s illegal’, but there’s no consequences, there’s no jail time, nothing to make him pay it back; he’s going to do it again.”

After seeing the initial damage on March 15th, the couple went to the County Commissioner meeting on Monday, March 21st, seeking help and answers.

“I went down and showed them pictures of the creek, and I said, ‘I’m not a rocket scientist or a civil engineer, but to me, this is what’s going on’,” Ed said of the commissioners meeting. “You guys dumped rock in the creek and it changed the channel and it’s doing this and this, undermining your road bank; and at that time I didn’t know it was as serious as it was, and it’s hitting our hill. Can you guys just pull that rock back out and straighten the creek up? Darrell Keith was sitting there and said, ‘We can’t reach it.’ It hit me then that they knew it was there and they knew it was causing an issue. My question is: how long did they know?”

Ed and Melissa were told that IDEM has very strict rules about not being able to put equipment in a creekbed, and that the rock in question could not be reached from the bank.

“To me, whoever put it in didn’t worry about permitting; but to get it out, they were all about it,” Ed said.

Ed said that the county sent civil engineer Pat Conner to their home on March 30th, and Lyons and Keith were also there. Ed said that Conner told them that the rock needed to be taken out and the creek needed to be restored to its original course and the banks by the road and also on the Brush property needed to be shored up.

“But I said, ‘what about this thing going on with my house. What about my house?’,” Ed said. “She said, ‘oh, I’m saying this is this, but I’m not saying that this is causing that up above’.”

“I said, ‘how can you say that?’,” Ed continued. “It’s in a direct line.”

He said that Conner told him that it would take the expertise of a Geotechnical Engineer to show causation.

Based on that, the family remained in the home for another 10 days; and during that time the trees in the yard began to lean over towards the creek, things began to deteriorate.

“Steve Lyons came back out on his own accord and he said, ‘Ed, I’m really worried about anything and everything over here’.”

“I think we do need to say that, of all the politicians that are out there, Steve Lyons has been over here a lot,” Melissa said. “He’s been very caring and concerned. You can tell people care, and we believe he genuinely cares what’s going on now.”

Ed said that he began to reach out to Geotechnical Engineers and Civil Engineers all around the area; but couldn’t get anyone to call him back.

“So Steve said, ‘Things are bad, I’m calling Pat Conner back and see if they can send a Geotechnical Engineer, and by that evening, Pat Conner called back and said that they had a subcontractor working on the 156 project and the bridge on 50 in Lawrenceburg, and he’ll be out at the home and he’ll take a look and he’ll do his assessment.”

Soon thereafter, the Geotechnical Engineer Malek Smadi showed up.

“He didn’t need to take core samples, he and I went down into the creek and I just asked him, ‘I need to know. I need to know if it’s safe for my family,” Ed said.

“He didn’t say a word,” Ed continued. “But we got to the very end, and it was a rainy day like this, and it was me and Darrell Keith and Lyons and my father-in-law, Melissa; and we’re all standing on the front stoop, and he said, ‘You guys are on an active landslide’. He said, ‘The rock became dislodged and caused this S curve and it hit there and hit the toe of the hill, causing erosion to the point that it destabilized and triggered the landslide; and it’s potentially life threatening and you need to get your family out of this house. The times I’ve seen this happen, the county ends up buying your home’.”

The couple asked if they could get a retaining wall to stop the slide and keep their home, but were told that the last time the engineer had seen a slide the size and scale of this one, that the retaining wall failed.

“He had an assistant with him, and I began crying pretty hard at that point; and his assistant said, ‘She is really upset. Is there anything we can do to tell them that their house can be saved?’,” Melissa said. “He said there’s nothing. There’s nothing to save.”

The Brushes want everyone to know that they love being parts of the Switzerland County community.

“There’s a lot of great people in Switzerland County, there’s a lot of great people who work at that county department,” Ed said.

“We just don’t want them to drag this on,” Melissa said. “The truth will set you free; so let’s just move on. Everybody knows that it is what it is. We don’t want to live in my parents basement for five years while they drag this out. We don’t want to live in my parents basement for three more months. They’ve been wonderful. They’re awesome; but no one in Switzerland County has come to us and said, ‘Are you guys okay?’ They don’t know the mental side of this. There is a personal side of this.”

The Brush family understands that there’s nothing can be done to save their house. They know that they can’t rebuild the house on the land; and they know that they can’t sell the home or the land to a private buyer and move forward.

What they do hope is that they can use their voice and their research to help others not have to go through this in the future. It is their hope that they will be able to reach out to others and help them before the situation gets this severe.

“It costs nothing to research, and that’s where we are, that’s all we do,” Melissa said. “We keep thinking, because I feel like everything happens for a reason. Is God calling us for something? What are you calling us to do? Because I think, our house going down, I can’t get it. It kind of hit Ed and I the other day, I think He’s calling us to use our voice to make a change for other victims like this, because there is no help. What if my parents didn’t live here? Where would we be right now?”

“It’s too late for me and my family,” Ed said. “But if we can advocate for change, hopefully another family doesn’t have to go through this horrible situation that we’re going through right now.”

The couple said that the county told their attorney that it had filed a claim with the county’s insurance company about a week ago; but Ed and Michelle both hope that things will begin to expedite their situation.

“We just someone with a voice to get this out there so somebody will finally listen to us,” Melissa said.

Until then, Ed and Melissa and sons remain living in the basement of Melissa’s parents adjacent to the family’s sliding home.

As soon as possible, they’d like to again have a home of their own – one on solid ground.

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The couple has posted a video on YouTube (search ‘Indiana landslide’) with the hope that others will learn about the potential hazards that could happen on their property; and after one week the video already has 2,783 views.

They also have an email address: indianalandslide@gmail.com, and the couple urges anyone who has found themselves in the same situation or who has questions to contact them via that address.