The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Slide closes SR 4 approximately 22 hours

Motorists ask commissioners to improve ferry status reporting


January 4, 2018

Above: Rocks, mud and a tree slid onto SR 4 at Milepost 50 near Stella Friday afternoon and closed the highway for nearly 22 hours. Washington Department of Transportation photo.

Local motorists breathed a sigh of relief after SR 4 reopened 21 hours after being closed Friday afternoon just west of Stella.

Soil, rocks and a fir tree came sliding down about 4:55 p.m. with rocks striking at least one car and taking out utility lines but causing no injuries.

Washington State Patrol responded quickly, one motorist said, and closed the highway to await evaluation and action by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The slide occured on the stretch of SR 4 that has no parallel public road for a detour. Traffic was detoured to US 30 in Oregon. Many commuters returning to the Cathlamet area waited to use the Puget Island ferry, but traffic backed up, and motorists reported five hour trips to make the drive that normally takes 30 minutes.

WSDOT personnel arrived at the slide after 5 p.m. and decided to wait for daylight Saturday evaluate the slide.

On Saturday, department geo-technical crews assessed the hillside and determined that maintenance crews could begin clearing the highway.

Meanwhile the ferry Oscar B. ran continuously until Saturday morning when a steering control failed. Mechanics went to work, and the ferry went back into service around 2:30 p.m., approximately the same time the WSDOT crew cleared the slide and re-opened the highway.

Members of the public voiced dissatisfaction with information provided to the public about the slide and ferry status on Tuesday before the Wahkiakum County board of commissioners.

"The line on the Oregon side was at least a half mile long," said Olaf Thomason, a retired ferry skipper. "Nobody on the Oregon side gave any information about how long a car might wait. One woman told me she waited four hours to get on the ferry.

"There was no coordination on that side, or on this side."

Citizens commented that if people knew how long they might have to wait that they could make the decision to take bridges at Astoria or Longview.

Others commented that there was little notification that the road was closed.

Puget Island resident Sylvia Costich pointed out that the county's website gave ferry status from September.

"Forget Facebook," she said. "Many people don't use it. We should be able to go to the county website. Every day, it should be updated."

Assessor Bill Coons, also an Island resident, commented that one can subscribe to a WSDOT email list for notifications of road conditions.

"I get updates in my email," he said.

Left: After WSDOT crews re-opened the highway, slide material bulges behind the barrier fence erected in 2006. Photo for The Eagle by Jamie Nelson.

"We should be able to call a county hotline for current information on the ferry," Costich said. "That is really important to this community."

Commission Clerk Beth Johnson suggested the issue be placed on the agenda for meeting next week of commissioners and county department heads.

Commissioners were sympathetic to the public's concerns.

"We'll have to look at it," said commission Chair Mike Backman.

"Folks are right--it should be put out," said Commissioner Dan Cothren. "We'll get on top of it, and get it solved."

In the meantime, said Commissioner Blair Brady, people can go to the WSDOT website and register for email notifications.

That web address is:; see the "Email/text updates" tab on the upper right side of the page.


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