Highway 140 Update (3 June 2006)

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This information has been superceded. For the latest information that I have and links on how to get better info yourself, see my Highway 140 updates.

The Highway 140 closure looks like it will be a long-term event. There are 250-300 million cubic yards of unstable ground. Geologists surveying the area on Tuesday reported that the longest period during which there was no slide activity during their observations was 13 seconds. The slide is now entirely across the road and spilling into the Merced River. Long-term solutions include building bridges acros the Merced and moving the road to the other side, building a tunnel, or possibly stabilizing the slope somehow, though that seems less and less likely. There is further worry that important utility towers that supply the area could be affected by the slide. PGE is working on this with helicopters and such.

The latest (written on June 3 at 5:00pm PDT) from Lee Stetson, the county supervisor for the area, is as follows:

Hi folks,

This is an attempt to keep you in the loop on the rockslide. I trust you understand that the situation is fluid, and this information and frankly, my current understanding, may be outdated by the time you read it. Please pass it on, with that proviso. The info I sent to the El Portal community yesterday follows this email; I'm attempting to add as many folk in Midpines, Yosemite West and Foresta and the Park as possible. The email list is still pretty sloppy; bear with me, I'll get it refined and will bcc it to all.

Our immediate public health and safety issues have and is being addressed County Sheriff Jim Allen, Fire Chief Shultz and our health officer, Dr. Mosher. Every attempt is being made to assure the best and most immediate response in the case of a multitude of scenarios.

The two most compelling issues revolve around the possible loss of the transmission towers and a possible sudden collapse of the slide and a damming of a portion — or all — of the river.

On the TOWERS, P G & E is being very aggressive. They are in the process of relocating the two towers book-ending the slide area across the river and keeping power available to the Canyon, to the Park, Foresta and Yosemite West. Helicopters are flying in, holes being dug for the new towers, as I'm writing this. I'll have further info this evening, but it seems that they can get this done within a day or two. They are also putting in place today two large generators at Indian Flat to handle any sudden emergency that might occur before the relocation takes place. Those generators will also minimize the outage that will occur when they move the power to the new lines.

The potential damning of the river is more difficult to assess, given the unpredictable nature of the slide, and while our County Fire Chief has extrapolated some data re height of a dam and river flow, he acknowledges that the County lacks the full expertise and resources to be certain of conclusions. Caltrans flew in from Canada yesterday the world's expert on these slides, and they are vigorously applying themselves to a better understanding of the possibilities. They are also strategizing on immediate procedures in case of any dam event — ie; to release impounded water, create a spillway, etc. Our Fire Chief has undertaken the task of having his folk physically monitor the rockslide day and night, to provide as much warning as possible to upstream and downstream folk.

A number of suggestions dealing with the slide and opening the road in short and long term scenarios, for employees and residents only, or for visitors as well, are being entertained, (and all are welcomed) but are probably all contingent on the slide coming down fully, or on it's becoming stable. Measuring that stability is not easy, either, of course.

I met with Yarts, the Via folk, the Park Service, DNC and the School District, at 9 AM Friday morning re transportation from Mariposa (Midpines) to El Portal. We are very aware of employee and the school kids concerns - the exhausting 5 or 6 round trip, the cost for all, but especially for low wage earners in the Park and in the Canyon in particular. Some employees have quit their jobs; many have family, pets, and animals, and cannot afford the time and cost involved in getting to and doing their jobs. Until the road is functioning again, we will be losing more of our workers. We are identifying the numbers of users, the schedules most needed, the locations necessary for stops, and funding sources, and will meet again early next week.

The County Supervisors then met at the County Government Center at 10 am to reinforce the Emergency Declaration which outlines the harm the County is suffering. We initiated this declaration the previous week, and will continue to do so every week we are in session until the Governor signs it and, passes it on to the White House. As the harm becomes more burdensome, we will add those particulars to the Declaration. We answered as best we know, jointly with Cal Trans and PG&E, all questions and concerns. The chambers were absolutely jam-packed with citizens and press, - the largest attendance in those chambers in my memory. We also had in attendance representatives from Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, Assemblyman Cogdill, and State Senator Poochigian. Representative George Randanovich was there in person. All of these representatives are actively on the phone with Sacramento and Washington on our behalf.

I then hosted a meeting yesterday afternoon at the Center with CalTrans, PG&E, the Forest Service, NPS, Dept. of Water Resources, the Army Corp of Engineers, CHP, State OES and County Sheriff, Fire Chief and Health Officer, our CAO and County Counsel. This was to discuss roles and responsibilities. All the above and much more was discussed, but the chief conclusion was the Forest Service ( who owns the rock ) should take the lead role and initiate an Incident Command process to bring all the personnel and expertise necessary to resolve the problems posed by this rockslide. That may be in place as early as Monday. There is, on the part of all present, a genuine sense of urgency and priority — and they gained a clear understanding that we made very clear — namely that Mariposa County is poorly resourced to undertake the measures necessary to take care of this state highway surrounded by federal lands.

The economy of our County is and will be taking a hit as long as the road remains closed and folks chose alternate routes to the Park. Our Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, your Supervisors and our business folk in general are spreading the word re the pleasures of visiting Mariposa and detouring to the Valley via Rt. 49 north or south. Spread the word.

Down trail,

Lee

And for reference, Lee's previous letter is as follows:

Sent: Thursday, June 01, 2006 9:00 PM
Subject: 140, County News

Dear Folks,

Mariposa County Public Works Director, Dana Hertfelder, is having our County crew begin grading on Foresta Road on Monday. This is our highest priority, and they'll keep at it till it's done.

P G & E is taking aggressive actions to replace the towers in the slide area. Excepting some truly catastrophic wipeout, they expect to be able to restore power within a day or so if the towers went down. They are assembling information and materials NOW to address and preempt any problem, and the time frame of any down time will be shorten as they go, of course. They expect that power would not be available for perhaps 12 hours when they replace the line, but will consult with the Park and community re the best timing for an outage.

There is a another emergency meeting of the Board of Supervisors tomorrow, Friday, at 10:00 AM. The intent of the meeting is to reiterate our Declaration of Emergency, urging our Governor to speed up the process of relief, and move the request up to the national level. P.G. & E, CalTrans, will be present, representatives from Senator Feinstein's office, from Senator Boxer's office and from Assemblyman Cogdill's office will be there, and Congressman Randanovich will be there in person. All have indicated strong support in helping the County and the agencies involved. I expect a large group of Mariposa town folk will be there, and all are welcome, on any and all issues. If you can't get there, but you have questions and concerns not yet addressed, I'd be glad to present them for you, and get back to you with any information available.

The School Board met last night with parents and others to get themselves apprised of the slide situation, and to begin thinking on short and long-term strategies for busing. The general consensus was to muddle through the rest of the school year as they are, possibly with minor tinkering, and to gather info, already begun, on the needs and desires of parents for next year if the road remains closed.

Transportation issues for employees and students, as well as temporary housing possibilities are on a fast track of information gathering and discussion between the County, the Park Service, the Concessionaire, the school District, Yarts, and all other interested parties. There is, as you know, a large number of Midpines/Mariposa folks with a daily need to get to the Valley or El Portal, and burn-out is already very evident. We'll meet tomorrow on that issue as well.

The El Portal swimming pool work is moving along as rapidly as possible - but the contractor has encountered some unforeseen difficulties, and to do the job right, it may be a bit longer than expected before it's finished . We expect it back on line sometime between mid-June and the end of June. Parks and Rec and locals are working on staffing lifeguards there, and have some promising leads.

Down Trail,
Lee

2 Comments

Mariposa

I feel so bad for the businesses in Mariposa. They were hit hard from the last highway shutdown. Here we go again.

Everyone

Yeah, it's terrible for Mariposa businesses but also for just everyone in the area. We're trying to build a house in the area and it is just creating that much more difficulty. I don't think anyone is too happy.

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