The Idaho County commissioners signed a declaration of county disaster Tuesday and are seeking assistance from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security to deal with the landslide on State Highway 14 to Elk City.
The declaration estimates it will take three or more weeks to repair the slide that collapsed Thursday at milepost 39, spewing debris 40 feet deep over about 500 feet of roadway and into the South Fork of the Clearwater River. Electrical service was interrupted to more than 650 account holders and debris removal, slope stabilization and highway road surface repair is expected to cost more than $1.5 million, according to the declaration.
Dave Kuisti, district engineer for the Idaho Transportation Department at Lewiston, said bids were advertised Monday night for a contractor to get up to the landslide area with a large excavator and trucks to begin clearing material from the bottom. The department is also seeking a permit from the U.S. Forest Service so it can begin removal of unstable rocks and dirt from the top of the slide area.
Crews will have to work cautiously, Kuisti said, especially when trying to dislodge a huge boulder about the size of a two-story building that is stuck on the hillside.
“That could be precarious,” Kuisti said.
Commissioner Skip Brandt asked whether the department could open a temporary road along the bottom edge of the slide to allow gas, propane and other large vehicles to pass while the excavation is going on.
Kuisti said surveyors are considering that possibility, but won’t know for a while whether it is an option.
Meanwhile, the first regular convoy of motorists left and returned to Elk City over Newsome Creek Road 1199 Tuesday with no problems reported, Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings said. Although commissioners specified the escorted convoys could take place only at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Chief Deputy Jim Gorges said cars began rolling out of Elk City at 6 a.m. And it appears a logging truck went through in the middle of the night, he said, along with another vehicle that slid off the road but managed to get back out.
The commissioners and others at Tuesday’s meeting discussed how to handle the situation of people not cooperating with the scheduled convoy times. Officials are concerned that if the road, which is a single-lane gravel surface with icy, slushy and muddy spots, is overused it will become impassable and all routes out of Elk City will be shut off until the highway reopens.
Giddings expressed confidence his department could handle the traffic, but one man in the audience noted there is a federal closure on the Newsome Creek Road except for the approved times. People who violate the closure could be subject to prosecution.
We have to get the message out that’s not acceptable.
Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt on people overusing the sole route left to Idaho City, a slushy, soft road
Giddings said his deputies and road department workers are monitoring the road when it is open. A 24-hour patrol is possible if the commissioners want one, but he said it would be expensive.
The commissioners did not make a decision about an around-the-clock patrol. But they did agree to move the travel times to 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. The evening departure time could be pushed back as far as 9 p.m. or later, Gorges said, if the weather warms up and the Newsome Road gets too soft.
Giddings said people wishing to travel to and from Elk City should check the sheriff’s office Facebook page daily or call the dispatch office at (208) 983-1100 for updates.
Plans were being made Tuesday to haul gas, propane and other essentials into Elk City Wednesday. Brandt said that the county’s garbage hauler, Simmons Sanitation, moved a container to the South Fork station along the highway toward Grangeville for people wishing to haul out trash.