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

County awaits report for action on slide

Safety concerns limit traffic


It's too soon to allow traffic on the Elochoman Valley Road near a slow moving landslide, Wahkiakum County officials decided Tuesday.

Officials closed the road two weeks ago after residents in the area heard cracking trees and informed the neighboring property owner who investigated and found large cracks in the ground indicating a massive landslide.

Residents of two houses in the path of the slide have evacuated their houses, and the county has erected a gate to block traffic up the road. Timber industry workers have had to use forest roads to reach work sites beyond the gate, and the resident of one house beyond the gate but not in the slide area has had to pass through the gate when leaving the house.

Meanwhile geologists working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Hancock Forest Industries, the land owner, have been studying the slide in order to understand its structure and potential movements.

On Tuesday, county Commissioner Dan Cothren relayed a suggestion from timber companies that they be allowed to issue passes to employees or contractors needing to pass the gate to reach work sites. Besides having to deal with a gate on a county road and the inconvenience of the gate, loggers will soon be ready to haul loads from units above the slide, and alternate routes are steep and troublesome for loaded trucks, Cothren said.

Other officials were sympathetic but unwilling to risk someone's safety.

"We closed that road for safety reasons," said commission Chair Mike Backman. "They should be going around. If we're not doing this for safety, why are we doing it?"

Colleague Blair Brady agreed, citing the risk of liability exposure.

"It was never my intention to have that locked up all the time," Cothren said. "There's too much land base locked up. It's a big thing to have it locked up.

Cothren suggested that if the geotechs feel the slide is stable, the road could be opened for some use.

"So until we get the geotechnical evaluation, we're done; there's nothing we can do," Brady said.

"We need all the entities together to talk about this," Cothren said. "Maybe we can open the road when it [weather] is dry."

"Gate or no gate, if somebody rides that slide into the river, everybody will get sued," commented Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow. "Until we know what the risks are, we can't manage it.

"You need to know the risks before you open it."

Commissioners also discussed the location of the gate and the inconvenience to the remaining resident whose property isn't threatened by the slide.

County Engineer Paul Lacy said the gate was placed at a school bus turn around so that motorists would be able to reverse their course. Further up the road beyond the occupied house, there would be no good way to turn around, he said.

In the end, commissioners decided to maintain the closure.

"Until we have the geotech report, it's all moot," Brady said. "As soon as we get the report in, we'll see what we can do."


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