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Ground slump still vexing

Shifting continues; Borough implements emergency plans

 


Sub-surface movement continues in the Oceanview Drive and Lutak Road area, prompting the Haines Borough late last week to implement its emergency response plan and causing one family to voluntarily move out of their shifting home.

A “command center” was set up in public facilities director Brian Lemcke’s office on Jan. 19 and local disaster response planner Roc Ahrens was brought on by the borough to manage contingency planning “should this event turn into a catastrophic one,” borough manager Mark Earnest said.

The movement is characteristic of a “slump” in geological terms, Earnest said, where a mass of land slips and shifts from the top, then upswells at the bottom.

Recent snow has made it difficult to visualize and inspect cracks caused by the slump, first noticed on Jan. 16. But Earnest said crews are constantly monitoring and measuring the movement that covers about a four-acre, horseshoe shaped area between Oceanview Drive, Lutak Road and Picture Point. The sub-surface movement continues and is creating cracks, heaves and slippage along the roads and property in the area. Lemcke said the borough filled many road cracks last week along Oceanview Drive and the state did the same for cracks on Lutak Road. The borough alone used about 40-50 yards of gravel to fill in gaps, Lemcke said, but the cracks continue to expand.

Earnest reiterated the seriousness of the issue Tuesday during the Haines Borough Assembly meeting.

“We have to find out what’s going on below the sub-surface,” he said. “It’s a slow moving event and has enabled us to put resources into effect. But we’re dealing with people who have invested their life savings and are concerned for their future.”

The assembly on Tuesday approved an appropriation of $75,000 from the townsite fund to continue work on the area. Earnest said he’s already executed two contracts under the borough’s emergency contract provision, one for about $30,000 for geo-tech work and the second for about $10,000 for survey work. The additional funds are being used for other incurred or expected expenses, such as transportation, materials and Ahren’s time.

Engineers and surveyors on Wednesday began drilling a series of bore holes that will be able to more accurately measure the movement. A lane closure on Lutak Road is planned for Friday as drilling continues.

Ahrens said the borough has designated alternative routes should Lutak Road become impassable, including diverting traffic along Front Street or the beachfront or possibly up along the Allen Road area.

Ahrens said contingency plans also have been made for supplies and fuel that rely on Lutak Road to reach Haines. Delta Western has located empty fuel tanks in town where they may store extra fuel.

Alaska Power and Telephone is monitoring its poles and wiring in the area. The movement shifted one of the power poles and AP&T utility manager, Danny Gonce, said crews have “resagged” some lines to keep up with the poles’ movement, but customers’ service has not been affected.

Haines Cable removed its line crossing Lutak Road and is monitoring the movement of another pole along Oceanview Drive.

Mayor Stephanie Scott and Earnest said they were taking the steps necessary that would hopefully allow the borough to receive some funding from the state.

“We are working with the state and doing the things we need to do to put us in position to get reimbursed,” Scott said.

Federal assistance may also be available eventually, Earnest said.

Lemcke said the emergency planning is necessary in order to stay ahead of any impacts further movement may have.

“We want to be prepared if that does slip across the road, even for a few days, it would have a huge impact,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best but planning for the worst.”

The worst hasn’t yet happened for Josh and Victoria Moore, but it’s close. The Moore house sits smack in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped area that is moving.

Victoria said she began seeing cracks and noticing the house shifting last week. With Josh out of town, she and her 5-year-old son stayed with family and then decided to move out completely. Victoria said she made the decision because Josh, a longliner, will leave to begin the fishing season soon.

“It really did get me thinking, I don’t want him out fishing and worrying about us,” she said.

She said friends helped find her a house and another 30 to 40 people helped gather boxes, pack her house and move out in the span of about six hours.

“It was just amazing,” she said.

Moore said more cracks appeared in the house over the last week. Others have exceeded the original markings she made to measure the cracks. The garage is detaching from the house and the kitchen floor is bowing and heaving up.

“I probably could have stayed there but then I’d always be worried,” she said.

Victoria said the homeowner’s insurance is working with the family, but it’s not clear what may be covered, especially while engineers and geologists are still trying to determine what is causing the movement.

“If the earth is moving and our house goes down the hill, it’s not covered for that,” Victoria said. “And land isn’t insurable.”

She said she’s appreciated all the support and help during their transition. But for the Moores, like for all the engineers and officials trying to figure out what phenomenon is making the earth slip, slump and crack, the problem is far from being resolved.

“I don’t think it’s over,” Victoria said.

Daily updates on the ground movement are posted on the borough website at http://www.hainesborough.us. Recorded updates can be heard by calling 766-2256.