Crews have removed 35 to 40 truckloads so far, ODOT officials say

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Rock specialists scoping the 120-foot hillside in Troutdale.A stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Woodard Road and the Stark Street bridge is still closed after a rockslide dumped boulders and debris over the road last Thursday, June 5.

Crews began clean up efforts on Friday and continued on Saturday, June 7.

As of Monday morning, Don Hamilton, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation said more work is needed before workers can remove the remaining piles of rock from the historic highway.

ODOT is waiting on a Seattle company to bring in a “high-reach excavator.” The excavator, primarily used for demolition, has a 125-foot boom arm that will be used to bring down loose rock in a controlled fashion.

Hamilton said an overhang at the top of the 120-foot hillside and another block on the rock face are unstable and need to be knocked down.

“We have to bring the other rocks down before we can safely remove the other debris and to safely secure the side of the hill,” Hamilton said in sum.

Further clean-up on the historic highway is on hold until the contractors can finish the operation, Hamilton said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Crews used a lift Friday, June 6, to check the hillside for loose rock. Work continued Saturday, but clean up efforts will be halted until ODOT can bring in additional equipment, officials say.So far, workers have cleared about 35 to 40 truckloads of rock and tree branches where it has been safe for them to do so.

“You can see how careful this process is,” Hamilton said to The Outlook on Friday. “It’s not easy stuff.”

There is no estimated time for re-opening of the road, ODOT officials declared.

Rockfall specialists used a hydraulic lift bucket Friday to inspect what’s left of the rock face on the south side of the historic highway.

Around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 5, boulders came loose from the hillside and caused about 1,000 cubic yards of rocks and debris to spill over the entire road.

Specialists got a face-to-face look at the wall and rock overhang that remained after the slide.

On Friday the Outlook spoke with Fred Gullixson, senior engineering geologist for ODOT, at the scene.

He said they were checking for large cracks or loose rocks that are still in danger of falling.

Rock scalers from Hi-Tech Construction of Forest Grove were also on site to help remove remaining rock by rappelling down the wall.

Once the site is safe, crews will haul the rock away, clear the road and check the road for damage, Hamilton said.

“This stretch has always been an issue,” Gullixson said. “There have been a number of rockfalls (in this area) over the years.”

He said the chain mesh covering the rock face was installed some 15 years ago after the last large rockslide covered the Historic Columbia River Highway on the east side of the Stark Street bridge.

“The mesh is really only designed to contain small rock up to two feet in diameter,” Gullixson said. “The big rocks barely notice the mesh is there, and they just plow right through it.”

Overlooking the Sandy River, two giant boulders are planted in the middle of the road, surrounded by relatively smaller boulders, rocks, pebbles and brush.

One of the boulders, on its side, is about 8-feet in width. Another is 12- to 16-feet tall, and about 5-8 feet thick.

As ODOT crews stand blocking the work area, locals drive by to take a good look. Cyclists also get off their bikes and walk up to take pictures.

Gullixson said ODOT deals with about two to three smaller rock or landslides along this stretch of the historic highway every winter.

“Usually, they are not as severe as this,” he said.

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