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Landslide that killed 2 kids blamed on natural causes

8:24 AM, Sep 6, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Two independent reports released Thursday say the city of St. Paul and its employees could not have predicted the deadly landslide that claimed the lives of two students at Lilydale Regional Park in May.

Investigators blame natural soil erosion for the incident, aggravated by a rainy spring and foot traffic on unmarked trails. Still, the city is in the process of evaluating the future of Lilydale Regional Park. Group fossil hunting permits will continue to be suspended while the course for Lilydale is being charted.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says the park's wild, unpaved nature is part of its allure. That also presents some inherent risk.

"Lilydale Park is a wonderful, wonderful part of the city," said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. " It is an untamed and wild area: that is part of its mystique, part of its wonder."

The results of the two investigations were released to the media Thursday morning by the teams that conducted them. The first was a fact-finding team led by Don Lewis, Dean of Hamline Law School. The second investigation was more technical, and was conducted by Northern Technologies, a geo-technical engineering firm.

Lewis' team conducted more than 30 detailed interviews with city employees and community leaders and studied 90,000 emails, more than 8,000 electronic files and 22,203 paper files. They also made a number of visits to the park and landslide site.

The Team's conclusion is that while employees and members of the community knew about soil erosion on the bluffs and inside the park they could not predict or prevent the deadly May 22nd slope failure.

On that day a slide occurred while students from St. Louis Park's Peter Hobart Elementary were hunting for fossils at Lilydale Park. In May, Two students, 10-year-old Mohamed Fofana and 9-year-old Haysem Sani, were buried in a combination of sand and broken shale and did not survive. Two other students were injured.

Ryan Benson, leader of the probe by Northern Technologies Inc., says his investigators looked at 3 things: the geology of the area, storm sewer or man-made triggers, and an overall geo-technical review.

Northern's conclusion is the slide could not have been predicted, and that all slopes like the ones at Lilydale go through a natural erosion process. Benson said there will be more slides in the future, but when and how severe aren't possible to predict.

The two independent reports will reportedly cost the city of St. Paul in the neighborhood of $180,000.

Lilydale Regional Park runs along the Mississippi River. It's a popular destination for fossil hunting. Permits for school and community groups remain suspended and will not be handed out until the city formulates a plan that will greater protect visitor safety.

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