Originally Posted Online: March 19, 2013, 9:46 pm
Last Updated: March 20, 2013, 12:01 am

No one claiming responsibility for crumbling wall

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By Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Mizener
The 10-foot high limestone retaining wall adjacent to the historic John Deere House along 12th Street in Moline is currently crumbling onto the sidewalk.

A historic retaining wall in Moline is crumbling, barricaded and outlined in caution tape, and no one is claiming responsibility for its repair.

The limestone wall is in an irregular parcel -- which runs 168 feet on 12th Street and 79 feet on 11th Avenue -- owned by Roger Colmark, adjacent to the John Deere house which he formerly owned.

The wall, 10 feet high in sections, is believed to be original to the late 1800s mansion. Chunks of the wall on 12th Street hill have been giving away the past two years, falling onto the sidewalk and causing the city to clean up the rocky and muddy mess, as the hillside is caving away, too.

Recent crumbling of the wall prompted Moline officials to put up barricades and caution tape to deter pedestrians.

Mr. Colmark, of Sterling, said on Tuesday he has no intention of fixing the wall. Ten years ago, he was quoted an approximate cost of $300,000 for repairs. In 2007, he quit paying property taxes on the parcel, part of his plan to rid himself of the property.

According to Rock Island County Treasurer Louisa Ewert, his plan hasn't worked. She said he still owns the property and is responsible for its condition.

Mr. Colmark said he hasn't seen the property lately or been contacted about its condition. But he said he believes the county should own the parcel by now.

According to the Rock Island County Clerk's office, in most cases, when a property has delinquent taxes, they are offered at a tax sale. If they are not bought, the county trustee eventually can take deed of the property.

According to the clerk's office, Mr. Colmark owes $3,081 in back taxes, interest and fees on the parcel for tax years 2007-10. But the county trustee did not want to go for deed for Mr. Colmark's parcel, Ms. Ewert said.

"The trustee did not want the property to be a burden on Rock Island County," she said. If the county had deed to the parcel, it would be responsible for the crumbling retaining wall.

Mr. Colmark said, under normal property tax law, Rock Island County owns the lot.

"But they have refused to take it back," he said. "It is in limbo I think."

For tax year 2011, Mr. Colmark owes $459.38, according to the clerk's office, but those taxes were not offered at tax sale. Ms. Ewert said the parcel was blocked from the tax sale because the county trustee found the property unsafe.

"Legally, we are not supposed to sell properties that are unsafe," she said.

Ms. Ewert said the county has no enforcement powers to force Mr. Colmark to make repairs.

"That would be up to the city of Moline," she said."He could be liable for any expenses incurred if anyone has to step in and make the property safe."

Moline city administrator Lew Steinbrecher said, given the fact Mr. Colmark hasn't paid the property taxes and has abandoned the lot, there likely would be no lien recovered.

"Unless otherwise directed by the city council, we don't own it," Mr. Steinbrecher said. "The owner is responsible. All we can do at this point is clean up any debris that falls in to the right-of-way and protect pedestrians by blocking off the sidewalks."

Mr. Colmark said he was fined in 2009 by the Municipal Code Enforcement System for violations related to the retaining wall. The city waived the fine in a deal it struck with Mr. Colmark related to the sale of one of his properties to Moline.

"I understand (that) under double jeopardy they can't take me back in and fine me again," he said.