At a townhall meeting Monday, Beach Road residents asked that the Haines Borough Assembly continue working to improve access to the neighborhood, which was cut off from the rest of town by a landslide on Dec. 2, although opinions differed when it came to what improved access should look like.

On Jan. 22, the assembly approved construction of a temporary access road across the debris field left by the landslide to allow residents to remove cars and larger belongings. The road closed on Friday, Jan. 29, and was blocked off with large rocks and cement barriers to prevent continued access by vehicle.

Some affected residents said they wanted the borough to reopen the access road, install power and give them the option of returning to their houses. Others said they supported limited access to their homes, installation of power to stave off property damage and preferred to wait to take additional steps until geologists are able to gain a better understanding of the area’s stability.

“I think everyone in this town should be given (the option to move home). I think that if your house is on fire and you have a water truck and you want to go put your own fire out, the government shouldn’t be there saying, ‘No, we got this, you stay out,’” Beach Roadhouse owner Amber Winkel said. “I just want to be home. Why do I have to move around and live in other people’s houses? And what am I going to do for income? I want to go home.”

Others said they wanted to wait for the geotechnical assessment commissioned by the state before taking too many steps.

“I don’t want open access to Beach Road. I think too few people live out there right now, and I don’t want free travel back there right now. I don’t think that’s in our best interest. I think there still is a danger that is undetermined, and I’m looking forward to finding out what the determination is,” said Noble Anderson, a Beach Road property owner whose family was in the process of moving back to the neighborhood when the landslide occurred. He said he hopes power can be restored soon to help protect homes.

State geologists have said houses in the vicinity of the Dec. 2 slide path remain at heightened risk due to a crack observed in the bedrock. At present, scientists don’t have enough information to accurately predict what will happen to homes beneath the crack if the hillside gives way.

The state is in the process of negotiating a contract with geotechnical engineering firm R&M Consultants, Inc. to study the geology of the area to inform decisions about search and rescue activities, short-term access to houses and whether it’s safe to occupy the area in the long term. Once the contract is finalized, the company’s first responsibility will be conducting a “winter field reconnaissance” to gather information about site stability, followed by a more in-depth summer study.

Mayor Douglas Olerud said after initial delays, the contract with R&M Consultants could be finalized this week.

“We’re hoping to have some initial feedback (soon). If they’re able to get here next week, they’re saying they’re going to be here six days. The contract calls for them updating the (Emergency Operations Center), the borough and the landowners before they leave town, so we’ll have an initial idea of what they’ve found and what their plan is at that time,” Olerud said, adding that weather could impact the timeline.

For some Beach Road residents, the geotechnical assessment represents an end to the state of limbo they’ve been in since the Dec. 2 landslide, and answers to questions like whether they will ever be able to return home.

“Do I want to move back there? Not until you tell me it’s safe, or it’s not safe,” said Beach Road resident Colleen Slate, whose house is on the edge of the Dec. 2 slide path.

Others at the townhall meeting questioned the necessity of the study.

“I’m not sure that the science is going to help us at all in terms of alleviating or clarifying the situation,” Beach Road resident Art Woodard said. “We want to live where we’ve got our property and have invested our whole lives, so to speak, and it just doesn’t make sense to have someone say, ‘Well you can’t do that because we’re in control.’”

Assembly members at the townhall meeting said they were sympathetic to residents’ requests for better access to their properties.

Assembly members Jerry Lapp and Gabe Thomas said they would support opening the access road to four-wheelers during cold weather.

“As long as the road’s stiff, I think we could at least allow a four-wheeler to go back and forth. Cars, I don’t think we can do until we get this study done,” Thomas said.

Assembly members agreed that improved communication between the borough and residents is essential moving forward.

“Having an open flow of information on a regular basis, even if it’s too much information. It might be stuff that’s legalese that no one wants to read, but maybe someone does,” assembly member Caitie Kirby said, reading from a list of ideas she’d prepared for the meeting. Other ideas included finding a way to have controlled road access, publishing a draft timeline for the coming months and identifying the best way for residents to present their concerns to the assembly.

Assembly members agreed to add Beach Road as a recurring item on future agendas to give residents a regular forum for voicing concerns.

The next regular assembly meeting is Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m.