Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition

Las Vegas Sun on Dina Neal’s Windsor Park Bill to Help Sinking Homes

Homeowners in sinking North Las Vegas subdivision could receive state funding for new homes.

For the past 40-plus years, Webster Davis has been watching the houses in his Windsor Park neighborhood slowly sink into the ground.

In this North Las Vegas neighborhood, foundations are cracked, sidewalks are broken and streets are warped. The shifting ground wreaks havoc with buried gas, water and sewer lines.

Some of the houses are tilted at extreme angles, noted Davis, who moved into his father’s house on Saber Drive in 1980, when he was 21 years old.

The 48-acre, historically Black subdivision was built between 1964 and 1966. Since then, as a result of groundwater pumping, the land beneath the neighborhood has subsided.

Long ago, Windsor Park was built on fault lines and within a subsidence “bowl” that can result in fissuring as well as ground sinking.

“They had no idea that when they said, ‘We want to build this community,’ that a geotechnical study should have been done to tell them they were building on fault lines,” state Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said. “They did not know that.”

When groundwater pumping outpaced the water table’s ability to recharge in the 1960s and 1970s, the ground started to sink and warp throughout the Las Vegas Valley. No community was hit harder by subsidence than Windsor Park.

At one time, there were 241 occupied homes in the neighborhood, but only 90 remain after previous relocation efforts. Those included a $14 million program in the early 1990s to build 45 replacement homes, which Neal labeled as substandard.

“That wasn’t what (residents) envisioned for their lives in order to move from their existing home, although falling apart, to a new home that ultimately they felt was falling apart as well,” she said.

Another initiative offered residents $50,000 grants toward the purchase of a new home, but families who took the grant had to buy in North Las Vegas and often ended up separated from their neighbors. If they didn’t live in the home for at least 10 years, they were required to repay part of the grant.

Neal, chair of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development, introduced a bill in April providing $10 million to help relocate the remaining families. The money, along with $20 million from the City of North Las Vegas, would pay to build new houses nearby, ofcomparable size and value at today’s prices, for Windsor Park residents. The vacated area would be earmarked as a recreational park.

Neal represents the area and chairs the Revenue and Economic Development committee that voted unanimously to back Senate Bill 450. It next goes to the full Senate for a vote. If the Democratic-controlled Legislature passes it, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo will consider it, said Elizabeth Ray, the governor’s spokeswoman.

But some neighbors are reluctant to go.

Pamela Neal, no relation to the senator, has lived in Windsor Park since her family moved in when she was 2 years old in 1972.

She doesn’t recall from her childhood anyone explaining why the homes near the Gilbert Academy of Creative Arts magnet school on West Cartier Avenue were beginning to sink.

But just a few blocks from Davis’ house, construction vehicles are busy digging and packing down dirt on a lot at Simmons Street and Carey Avenue, where an 86-acre industrial park is being built.

Pamela Neal and Davis said construction of the Windsor Commerce Park and other nearby commercial developments are proof the neighborhood can be saved.

“If they’re building behind us and they can pack that land (so) it’s suitable to build, do the same thing with these houses,” Davis said.

John Bell, a retired geologist with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, worked with other researchers to study widespread subsidence around Las Vegas starting in the late 1970s.

He co-authored a 2002 report, “Land Subsidence in Las Vegas, Nevada, 1935-2000,” that detailed how groundwater pumping before 1971 spawned three major subsidence bowls in the central, northwest and southern parts of Las Vegas Valley. They cover a combined 621 square miles.

Windsor Park, meanwhile, is located in its own smaller bowl.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District permitted most of the pre-1971 wells. They included residential wells, as well as those operated by Nellis Air Force Base and the City of North Las Vegas.

According to the report, nearly 3 inches of subsidence was noted in the valley in 1948, with reports from the mid-60s describing almost 30 inches of sinking near downtown Las Vegas.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that satellite images revealed the three distinct bowls spanning most of the Las Vegas Valley.

“Once we got the satellite data, it opened up our eyes,” Bell said.

The Water District launched an artificial recharge program in 1991 that used Colorado River water to increase groundwater and slow the subsidence.

Bell worked on a 2008 follow-up report that found the program slowed the sinking and raised the ground in some areas by an inch or so.

But the Water District halted the recharge program in 2011 to preserve water in Lake Mead, spokesman Bronson Mack said.

In Windsor Park, Pamela Neal said she is just looking for solutions and feels like residents have been getting “the runaround” for decades.

“I have raised my children and grandchildren there,” she said. “There is still no relief.”

Jared Luke, the city economic development chief, said officials welcomed attention now to the “very complex and emotional” Windsor Park resettlement issue. But he called it “not a situation that we can fix right away.” He said the city opposed Neal’s bill.

“I think everyone’s on the same page,” Luke said. “You can’t rebuild in Windsor Park. The soil condition is deplorable. But (the city) can’t walk in and say, ‘Windsor Park is uninhabitable.’ ”

Neal would have none of it. She is the daughter of Nevada’s first Black state senator, Joe Neal, himself a two-time candidate for governor who served 30 years in the Legislature and died in 2020.

“I’m tired of the excuses, and I’m tired of the statements that somehow these families missed their golden ticket to leave,” Neal said. “The remedy is still on the table because it has not been effective. You have neglected these families. They are aware of it.”

Michael Richardson, who has lived in Windsor Park since 1968, said if families must relocate, they should be relocated near each other to avoid breaking up the community.

The neighborhood not far from North Las Vegas Airport is a patchwork including neatly maintained homes, vacant lots, uneven sidewalks, undulating roads, crumbled foundations and dilapidated houses.

“We’ve been together 50 years; we’re a family,” Richardson said. “Otherwise, we could have been gone a long time ago.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

https://lasvegassun.com/news/2023/apr/30/homeowners-in-sinking-north-las-vegas-subdivision/

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