By Gretchen Wehmhoff
Giant boulders slid onto mile 5.2 Dyea Road last weekend as rain continued to soften the terrain in the area.
Skagway State DOT Foreman Shaun McKnight said it took two front loaders working together to roll the beast of a rock across the road and down the embankment towards the inlet.
“We had to wait until the tide was out, then we rolled the rock off the road,” McKnight said.
Environmental regulations prohibit dropping the rocks any other time than low tide to avoid impact to animals and fish.
“We’re required not to make splashes. Hence the reason we had to wait until the tide went out so we could push the rocks over, because they don’t want us to hurt an animal or maybe any fish.”
More than two boulders fell.
“The big one was like 15 by 12 by 10. Granite weighs somewhere over 165 pounds a cubic foot. So you start going 12 by 15 by 10 – keep in mind that this isn’t a big giant square. It’s not a house. So rounded off, you probably lose 30% of it. But you’re still talking about a rock that weighed almost 200,000 pounds,” McKnight said.
McKnight says it’s probably not over and the area isn’t stabilized.
“We removed as many rocks as we could reach with the equipment that we had. And we’re hoping that the rocks that may come down will come down. What happens is the dirt underneath gives away and they just kind of slide. There are probably six more the same size up that hill.”
On the way to the boulders, McKnight and his one other operator passed by more rocks sliding around mile 3. They did what they could, but the rocks were still coming down so they moved out of the way until it subsided.
McKnight says they have tried to keep the road graded, and the impact of the recent slides created more bumps and holes. Trying to beat the rain is tough and any attempts to smooth out the road often end up in more mud and holes.
“Until it stops raining. We can’t do anything with it. And you know, I feel awful because I myself drive out there. And those things – they’re all coffee spillers.
Mcknight’s crew is down to two, including him, headed into the winter. People have retired or moved. Hiring new crew has been difficult. The team is designed to be a five-person crew, but since March it’s been down to two. There were prospects, but the last three who applied “saw what it costs to find a house here and withdrew,” McKnight said.
Skagway is expected to have more rain, mountain drain off and area flood watches over the next few days.