Laure Quinlivan Says Landslides Are Bringing Us Down

The former WCPO investigative reporter’s new documentary delves into Cincinnati’s landslide quagmire.
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One thing Laure Quinlivan found astonishing while making her new documentary film, Living With Landslides, is just how many parts of the region she and her crew visited. Her journey took her to Mt. Adams and along Columbia Parkway, of course, but also as far east as Milford, where they met a man who paid $50,000 for a backyard retaining wall and might have to install another for $100,000, and Mt. Washington, where a woman’s entire backyard has fallen down a hill and will cost more than the value of her home to fix. The problem is everywhere, says the former Channel 9 investigative reporter and Cincinnati city council member.

Photograph courtesy Laure Quinlivan

For those who don’t know, why is Cincinnati so prone to landslides?

It comes down to geology, but human actions—like early settlers cutting down all the trees on our hillsides and mining them for rock—worsened the problem. With climate change, more rainfall is causing more landslides, and it’s only going to get worse.

What was the biggest surprise in your reporting?

People can get insurance for everything, right? Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes. You can’t get landslide insurance.

What’s your advice to anyone buying property in this area?

If you’re at the top of a hill, the bottom of a hill, or near a hill, you really should hire a geotechnical engineer to come out and make sure that your property is stable. Know what’s under the house, too. For a few people in our story, their biggest issue is their house was built on fill dirt.

Eric Russo, executive director of Hillside Trust, is interviewed by Laure Quinlivan in “Living With Landslides.”

Photograph courtesy of Laure Quinlivan

Can the problem be fixed?

One major thing we could do is require developers to agree to a performance bond for any new developments on areas prone to landslides. We have pretty good hillside regulations, but too many times local governments grant variances that negate the whole purpose of having the regulations.

What else can local governments do?

We should put up signage to explain the cost of these landslides. The city of Cincinnati has spent more than $113 million repairing landslide-damaged roads since 1989. The public needs to know more about how our tax dollars are fixing things.

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