Family members of two of the children killed and the others injured in a landslide at St Paul's Lilydale Regional Park say the city is trying to avoid responsibility, after officials just released two new reports that conclude there was no way to predict the catastrophe.
The reports, one by a Twin Cities engineering firm, and another a law firm, found city employees knew about erosion and a past landslides at Lilydale Park. The reports also say heavy rain may have played a role in the deadly collapse. But investigators say the City of St Paul could not have known about the potential danger to a class of fourth graders on a fossil-hunting field trip on May 22.
"They knew that the area was risky. But they didn't know it was going to occur -- the incident. But knowing something is risky, why must you take kids, vulnerable kids to the site?" said Mohammed Bah, whose nephew, 10-year-old Mohammed Fofana, and his classmate, 9-year-old Haysem Sani, died when they were enveloped in a moving wall of mud and gravel.
In the video below, John Goetz, the attorney representing two families, says the city of St. Paul should have taken precautions.
The online permit process makes applicants acknowledge hazardous conditions at Lilydale. But the potential risk wasn't mentioned in the field trip information sheet the school sent home to parents.
Danielle Meldahl, whose 10-year-old son, Devin, was injured in the slide, said she was "upset to hear that they knew about the erosion and to know about all the kids who do go down there, that precautions were not taken ahead of time to make sure that they were going to be safe down there in the area."
"I just don't understand why something wasn't done ahead of time, being that there's so many children down there," she says in the video below.
The reports include emails from residents to the city and National Park Service about flooding or collapsed bluffs at Lilydale. The chief complaint wasn't the possible danger, but rather that the mud and muck could take away from the enjoyment of a hike.
Jon Kerr, of Friends of Lilydale Park, acknowledges that his group also didn't connect the erosion with the safety of visitors. But he said members repeatedly raised the general issue with the City of St. Paul.
"I'm not sure if I hear a clear attitude from the city that they're going to directly address this. I'm concerned instead they're just going to close the park down and blame the whole park for some certainly extreme situations that could have had at least some remedial efforts beforehand," he said.
Engineers who worked on the reports say it would be difficult to make Lilydale safer by reinforcing its bluffs without drastically altering the natural environment.
• More video on this story from KARE 11
• Report says St. Paul didn't know of danger
• Download and read the Sept. 5, 2013 reports
• Video: Parents recall an emotional day
• Video: Parents say they weren't warned of risks
• Story: Family, community mourns children who died
• Photos: Scenes from the May 22 rescue and recovery
• Why Lilydale is a good place for fossils
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who lives near the park, said such changes would harm the habitats of the many eagles, hawks, deer and turkey he sees from his front porch.
"I think one of the guiding principles for the city of St Paul, the years of work that has gone on to reinforce the river, to preserve some of that habitat and naturalness, is inconsistent with trying to build a concrete wall around this facility," he said, adding that it's still his goal to reopen the part of Lilydale Park closed after the tragedy.
"We are never going to be able to create a perfectly safe environment in Lilydale. It can't happen. But we do believe that working with our partners, whether it be the park service or the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, we can learn and implement a protocol that will allow us to once again reopen Lilydale Park to groups of children to explore as thousands of children have done before," Coleman said.
With reporting assistance from Trish Volpe of KARE 11 and MPR News