Moving onto solid ground
By Bonnie J. Yocum The Daily News

Rising from the dust of the Aldercrest demolition project, more than a dozen reusable homes will be moved out of the disaster area and onto solid ground.

This week, workers from Robert Weber Housemoving uprooted an abandoned blue rambler at 508 Grim Road and moved it to a vacant lot at South 10th Avenue and Elm Street in Kelso.

Using steel beams, a broad, flat dolly, a 1953 Korean War tank retriever and a few more trucks, Bob Weber and a crew of five rolled the 1,600-square-foot, 40-ton house down Kelso's hilly east end and onto a vacant lot.

"It's kind of weird that someone else will live in my house," said Kay Gunter, who lived in the home for 17 years.

"It's all a bittersweet thing. It's more bitter than sweet."

Gunter said she and some of her Aldercrest neighbors would have moved their homes if they could. "They never even suggested that as an option for us," she said.

Residents were told house movers wouldn't be able to navigate steep, winding Grim Road, she said. "It wasn't an option at all, so I guess it's strange to think that it's being moved somewhere else. I guess I thought it was one of the ones that was going to be torn down."

Weber, who runs the moving company, bought the house and owns the lot it sits on now. He'll rescue at least one other condemned home from Azalea Court this month and place it next to the first. He plans to renovate the houses and sell or rent them.

Weber bought the houses for $1,000 each from Anderson Environmental Co., the contractor hired by the City of Kelso to demolish 126 Aldercrest homes. Kelso bought the houses from residents for 38 cents on the dollar with federal disaster assistance money.

It costs between $15,000 and $20,000 to move the houses, and Weber said he'll be able to sell them for about $100,000. With the arrangement, Anderson Environmental saves up to $5,000 because it doesn't have to crush the homes and haul them away. Weber gets a healthy real-estate investment. And a perfectly good house doesn't take up space in a landfill.

"Instead of putting it in the garbage dump, it can still be recycled, reused," said Weber, who has been moving homes in the region for 26 years. Two Oregon house-moving companies also are saving some of the neighborhood's houses. Together, the three companies will relocate about 15 Aldercrest houses.

Anderson Environmental is wrapping up Phase Two of the demolition, in which 49 houses were removed. About 50 houses remain to be demolished in the Aldercrest neighborhood, which started moving in 1998 and became the nation's second-worst slide disaster.

"It has just bothered all of us to see these beautiful homes tore up," said John Coleman, one of 11 remaining residents. "It's a shame that all of them couldn't have been carted off and used somewhere. I think it's good that somebody is taking advantage of it."