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Clearing rockslide is risky business

Work begins Friday to clean up rockslide in Troutdale


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Crews scope the rock face to make sure it is safe for workers to begin clearing debris.On Friday, June 6, workers began to clear the rockslide that fell over Historic Columbia River Highway Thursday morning just south of the Stark Street bridge in Troutdale.

Oregon Department of Transportation hired a rock fall construction company to remove loose rock from the hillside before workers could begin clearing debris from the road.

In the morning, using a weed eater and a chainsaw, two rock scalers made their way from the top of the rock cliff to clear brush and cut a path so they would have more room to work.

Brian Walker, ODOT maintenance coordinator, said they also were looking for disturbed soil to make sure a bigger slide wasn't waiting to come loose.

“The whole slope looks unstable,” said Sean Talton, who recently joined the rock team after doing similar work in Hawaii.

Talton said the guys up there clearing brush were likely fishing through poison oak.

By the time the men got back on the ground, around 2 p.m. ODOT was hauling in a “man lift” across the Stark Street Bridge.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Onlookers stop to check out the rockslide in Troutdale.Crews were also bringing in a back hoe from the other side of the rockslide to begin removing some of the debris on the highway.

At 2:30 p.m. workers used equipment to raise themselves into the air and examine the slope of the hillside.

"You can see how careful this process is," said Don Hamilton, spokesman for ODOT. "It's not easy stuff."

Fred Gullixson, senior engineering geologist for ODOT, said they are looking at what's left of the rock face and checking for large cracks or loose rocks that may cause a danger to workers below.

After the inspection, the rock scalers will come in and check the rock.

If they find loose rock, Gullixson said the scalers will kick the rock or hit it with a bar to move it out.

“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.

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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