Slide could be cleaned up this week

Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A week after a mudslide tore over the cul-de-sac at the end of Wickersham Avenue, state crews continue cleaning up the mess below on Glacier Highway.

Culverts below Glacier Highway remained clogged with basketball-size rocks, and it could be Friday before the cleanup is complete, said Malcolm Menzies, director of the Southeast Region of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

"That's our hope, our best estimate," he said. Or, "It could go south from there."

Glacier Highway remained closed to through traffic between Wickersham Avenue and the access ramp to Egan Drive on Tuesday. Juneau city officials announced that Capital City Transit canceled regular bus service until the road is passable again.

Two lower culvert segments appeared to be clear Tuesday afternoon, Juneau Emergency Program Manager Michael Patterson said. Crews still need to clear debris from section of 3-inch- to 4-inch-diameter culvert leading down from Glacier Highway, he added.

Tuesday's work included excavators, as state crews worked to remove boulders in the manholes, Menzies said. The work, he added, "is very, very slow" and mostly has to be done by hand and with forced water.

Crews were working with floodlights Monday night, Menzies said, after a pumper truck from the city became available to shoot water taken from fire hydrants, boring into the packed debris.

Heavy rains propelled tons of boulders, debris and mud into the series of culverts late in the afternoon of Nov. 22, the previous Tuesday.

Rains were measured by the National Weather Service during the seven days leading up to the mudslide at more than 10 inches at the airport and more than 14 inches downtown. The rain first loosened cobblestones and then larger rocks, Menzies said.

The debris piled up on top of the culvert at Wickersham Avenue, which is the city's responsibility, Patterson said. Last week crews removed about 200 cubic yards of debris from the area, he estimated. He noted that a single dump truck holds only about 10 cubic yards of material.

The mudslide ran between houses in the 1900 block of Glacier Highway, in an area where water naturally collects and runs off the mountain.

The Department of Transportation responded to similar problems in Haines and Sitka during the rains, Menzies said.

Some water continued to flow down the path of the mudslide until below-freezing temperatures slowed it, he said.

Both Menzies and Patterson said whether it takes a couple of days or longer to clean up the remaining mess depends on damage to the last culvert segment.

Patterson said that if the culvert segment has to be replaced, an above-ground ditch would have to be built to channel water before it could be replaced in the spring.

He said he was impressed with how quickly the state has responded to cleaning up the mess.

"They're down there in that stuff mucking it out by hand, and you don't hear a cross word out of them," he said. "And it's wicked cold, slow, tedious work."

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