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Small slides slip into Juneau

Posted: December 6, 2011 - 1:04am
Daren Booton, one of the owners of the Tram Plaza Building on South Franklin Street, steps over muddy water running down the Mt. Roberts hillside after heavy rains on Monday. Booton was trying to keep a drain open but the volume was too great and flowed out onto South Franklin Street.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Daren Booton, one of the owners of the Tram Plaza Building on South Franklin Street, steps over muddy water running down the Mt. Roberts hillside after heavy rains on Monday. Booton was trying to keep a drain open but the volume was too great and flowed out onto South Franklin Street.

Franklin Street got a little more than just runoff debris late Monday afternoon after part of the hillside between Franklin and Gastineau Avenue gave way to a mudslide.

The slide smacked up against the Alaska T-Shirt Co. building and will prove to be more of a mess than anything else at this point.

City Emergency Director Tom Mattice stopped by the site and had been watching the area a few hours earlier.

“There was no damage,” Mattice said. “Just got a plugged drain and a little bit of extra water flowing against the foundation. I was here with the shop owner looking at everything.”

Mattice said there has been a high volume of water flowing down the hill in a short amount of time that’s bringing a lot of sediment. That sediment is “basically creating its own dike,” Mattice said, so water is flowing where it wouldn’t normally.

“So basically the intensity today is the highest we’ve seen in quite some time,” he said. “It was carrying gravel and rocks and mud with it. It tends to pool in places you don’t like it to.”

Mattice said the slide behind the shop is considered small, less than a 50-foot bank.

“I went up the tram earlier,” he said. “I saw a dozen (slides) in the same size class. They’re just not affecting the community because they’re up on the hill.”

Earlier in the day the most that had hit street level was runoff debris from the high intensity rains, with 22-24 inches of rain since Halloween, Mattice said.

There is some concern of the hillside giving way to a larger slide, but Mattice is hoping weather forecasts for the next two days will stabilize the hill.

“If we were seeing 60 mph winds and rains all night, I would be concerned too,” he said. “The rain has stopped. We’re starting to see some stabilizations. Things are gonna freeze up over night. We’re supposed to see rains the next few days, but not high intensity rains. We were getting concerned and everyone was paying attention. It has subsided. We’re still paying attention.”

Mattice said he and the Public Works Department have been working together on the mudslide issue.

“Mudslides happen from intensity and moisture. It’s a doubler,” he said. “Now the rain is gone and the snow is mostly gone, it’s cooling off so things should start to freeze up. We’re hoping with the cooling and drying out pattern the danger will subside.”

If not — there could be more slides.

“We’ve been there,” Mattice said. “We know what that’s all about.”

Juneau National Weather Service office meteorologist Edward Liske looked up precipitation data for the Empire. In the last seven days, including Monday, 3.51 inches of rain fell at the airport. Liske said that seven-day rain total doesn’t even make it into Juneau’s top 50 for most rain in a week. The No. 50 spot goes to a week in 1949 with 5.78 inches of rain, while the No. 1 spot goes to the week of Nov. 22, 2005 with 10.42 inches.

Mattice said the portion that gave out Monday isn’t the area that they get most concerned about.

“Basically, I worry about mudslides coming off the 1,000-foot ridge, into the community,” he said. “Anything that’s going to start high on the hill is going to have a lot more impact damage.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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