Ground shift threatens roads, homes
In what Haines Borough officials are calling “significant ground failure” cracks and heaves have recently and suddenly appeared along Oceanview Drive and Lutak Road, the main route for travelers Alaska Marine Ferry Terminal to Haines and beyond.
Borough and state engineers and geologists arrived in Haines on Wednesday to assess the ground cracks, surface ruptures, lateral spreading and differential settlement occurring in the Oceanview Drive area. The crack crossing Lutak Road extended an additional six to eight feet and a few inches in width overnight Tuesday. Borough manager Mark Earnest said while engineers and geologists with have to determine the cause or source of the movement - and come up with a plan of action - he said it was not seismic or earthquake related.
“It’s not related to seismic activity,” Earnest said. “It’s related to ground movement. Our main focus is understanding what the phenomenon is, what is happening there, why it’s moving and getting a better understanding of the nature of this event.”
Borough public works director Brian Lemcke said the area of concern covers about a quarter mile area from the top of Oceanview Drive – a borough road - down to Lutak Road – a state road - and continuing down the hill to Picture Point.
The borough issued a report Tuesday detailing the possible threats to property in the area. Officials talked with homeowners in the area and determined none were in imminent danger, but Lemcke said the borough turned down the pressure on the water main and sewer lines crossing the area.
Aside from the threat to residential homes in the area, the borough said its also concerned for the physical infrastructure and utilities. A single sewer main serving about 100 residents in the Highland Estates and Skyline area runs directly through the area actively shifting. The borough are making a place to bypass the main if necessary, but it may require laying a hose across Lutak Road.
Local residents were also advised to stock up on potable water in case the water line is damaged, but Earnest said only a handful of homes are serviced with the water line that runs through the affected area.
Alaska Power and Telephone is monitoring its overhead transmission wires and Haines Cable TV removed its overhead cables from utility poles in the area.
Josh and Victoria Moore's home lies within the horseshoe-shaped area that is actively shifting. Josh is out of town and Victoria decided to take her son and stay with a relative Tuesday night.
“I packed up some personal stuff and we went to stay at my in-laws,” she said.
She said the crack across Lutak Road is directly in line to intersect the Moore's detached shop, if it continues. She has also noticed new cracks in her garage ceiling and shifting in her house. A breaker box in the garage has essentially popped out of the wall she said and she noticed Wednesday morning when she returned to the house that a door was off kilter and no longer shut.
“I noticed the dip and small crack in the road one day,” she said. “And the next day it just opened up and got bigger and things started shifting.”
Roger Schnabel of Southeast Roadbuilders paved the Oceanview Drive and Lutak Road area in 2009, he said. During the project, Schnabel said they discovered an underground spring.
“Right where that fault is on that road, there was a spring that came up out of the ground,” Schnabel said. “The state had us excavate deeper than the plans originally called for and replace that area with course drain rock.”
Schnable – who said he isn’t a “geo-tech guru" - said the spring wasn’t apparent until excavations on the project began, but he also said it's probably not the cause of the shifting.
“The spring is not the problem,” he said Wednesday morning. “It just tells you you have underlying water which means you have a slip plain under there.”
Earnest agreed there was a lot of ground water in the area, but isn't sure if that is affecting the movement. He said the borough and engineers are going to be constantly monitoring the area and want residents to contact the borough if they notice any new cracks, heaves or shifting of their houses.
"We want to have residents reporting any new changes in doors, windows, any cracking - anything that might indicate movement," he said. "We just need to keep a close eye on any kind of movement in the area."