Dubuque couple fighting city over failed retaining wall - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque couple fighting city over failed retaining wall

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One Dubuque couple is out of their home after a retention wall the city owns collapsed. One Dubuque couple is out of their home after a retention wall the city owns collapsed.
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

One Dubuque couple is out of their home after a retention wall the city owns collapsed.

The nearly two-story-high wall, right next to the couple's house, gave way April 10.

The couple, Mike and Vickie Sawvell, are now seeking what they say is fair compensation from the city.

After the wall collapsed the rainy morning of April 10, city engineering staff members encouraged the couple to vacate the home, citing safety concerns about the wall's stability, especially in the case of continued rain.

The city isn't saying much about this issue, as they say negotiations with the couple are ongoing, but city public information officer Randy Gehl did say the house has not been officially deemed structurally unsafe.

Still, the Sawvells moved out that day -- April 10 -- and have since spent some $3,000 in hotel, food and moving-related costs. They claim the city said it would reimburse them for all that, but the Sawvells say they haven't seen a cent yet.

On Monday afternoon, Mike and Vickie Sawvell moved boxes of their belongings up the steps leading down to their house on the bluff overlooking 18th Street and Central Avenue in Dubuque.

"Oh, we were planning on moving in the next couple years here, but not -- bang -- right now," Mike Sawvell said.

It was a bang or a crash Vickie Sawvell said she heard the morning of April 10, just minutes after coming inside from letting the dogs out. The couple said the retention wall collapse dropped a four-ton chunk of limestone right where she had been standing moments before.

"Almost lost my life once to cancer, and I didn't really want to do it when we were telling the city all this time about it moving," Vickie Sawvell said.

The couple says they told the city occasionally over the past year or two that they saw the retaining way slowly moving.

Then, on April 10, the wall came crashing down and city engineers suggested the couple leave immediately.

The Sawvells say the city promised it would pay for their hotel and other moving expenses.

"All these promises that they made, they have not come through with one of the promises yet. Not one of them," Mike Sawvell said.

He said the city is offering them $30,000 for the home and $22,000 for moving-related fees, far below what they want for the house.

Plus, Sawvell said, the property taxes they're paying on the home is for a house assessed at $45,000.

"We've been taxpayers in this town for years and years and years," Mike Sawvell said. "Our families have been here, and if this is the way you take care of the taxpayer, this is not good."

"They need to start talking to us more and to give us a fair quote and not how low they have been going," Vickie Sawvell said.

For her husband, an abrupt goodbye is not how he wanted to bid farewell to his family home.

"I've lived here for at least 50 years of my life," he said. "It's sad, it really is. We did nothing wrong except pay our taxes."

The Sawvells, who have been living in a hotel since April 10, continue to move their belongings out of their home, house hunt and work.

Sawvell said the couple has been approved for a home loan but the house hunt process is not something they want to rush. In the meantime, he said, the couple can't afford to pay for another month of living in the extended-stay hotel where they'd been lodging. He said one month there has cost them $1,800, which he said he expected the city would pay.

The city is negotiating with the Sawvells through attorneys on both sides.

Nobody was injured in the wall collapse.

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