It’s landslide season, and as usual Whidbey Island does not disappoint.
In the past two weeks, five slides have been reported on South Whidbey alone: three occurred on Columbia Beach Drive, one on Glendale Road, and another along Cultus Bay Road just north of Sandy Hook, according to county officials.
“It’s that time of year,” said Connie Bowers, assistant county engineer with Island County Public Works.
None of the recent slides were anywhere near the size of the Ledgewood event in 2013, which saw the collapse of more than 1,100 feet of bluff — an estimated 40,000 dump truck loads — or the smaller 2014-2015 slides that destroyed beach cabins at Brighton Beach, or Old Clinton.
These were small by comparison, largely resulting in temporary road or lane closures, though one in Clinton Monday morning damaged a garage on Columbia Beach Drive. It was actually two events, said Rob Haines, the homeowner.
“The first one hit about 10 after 1 (a.m.),” Haines said. “… Then it slid again at about 10 after 6 (a.m.). That was the big one.”
A slurry of mud and trees broke through the garage door and filled his laundry room with thigh-high debris. The force of the impact shook the whole house, he said.
Haines was home during the slides and was not alone. His fiancée was visiting from Everett.
“She did not enjoy it,” Haines said with a chuckle.
“It’s a spooky sound,” he admitted, recalling the noise of mud rushing down the hill and colliding with the house. “You just don’t know what to expect in the dark.”
Columbia Beach Drive is the small road at the bottom of Highway 525 just before the Clinton Ferry Terminal. Landslides are common on the road. One man, who was caught waiting for road crews to finishing clearing the street Monday morning, said his family has lived on Columbia Beach for decades and that in that time there have been upwards of 60 slides.
Bowers said that’s no exaggeration.
“It seems like we get at least one a year (on Columbia Beach Drive)… so yeah, that seems ballpark,” she said.
Case in point, she said two were reported on the same road this past week. She didn’t have details about the events, such as how much earth moved or whether they resulted in damage.
As for the slide on Monday, county road crews cleared the road in front of Haines’ house twice, once at around 2 a.m. and then again after the 6 a.m. slide. A total of five dump truck loads of material was removed, Bowers said.
The Monday before, March 20, saw a slide on Cultus Bay Road that’s reduced a small section of the street to one lane. The affected portion of the road parallels a bluff on the way to Sandy Hook just south of the Possession Road intersection. The slide occurred just below the road, with earth sloughing away right up to the pavement’s edge; portions of a brand new guard rail installed just this month were left suspended in the air.
Bowers couldn’t say whether the installation of the guard rail contributed to the slide, but said the county has hired a geotechnical engineer to evaluate the area. The expert will provide the county with a recommendation about how to fix the area and whether it’s safe to reopen both lanes of traffic.
“We’re hoping they’re going to come down today or tomorrow,” Bowers said Monday. “Depending on what they say, we could leave it one lane or open it up. I kinda doubt that, but you never know. They’re the experts.”
One possible fix of the area may involve what’s known as a gabion basket, a wire container or blanket that secures rocks in place. One was used to address similar slide damage on Possession Road.
Judith Hanson, an area resident, said she’s glad to hear a fix may be on the way. Residents hadn’t received any news from the county. She said there is a concern among residents that a future fix would temporarily shut down the entire road. It’s the only access to the Sandy Hook community.
“There’s 300 plus homes down here,” Hanson said.
Finally, another mudslide closed a section of Glendale Road Saturday, March 18. It was in a remote area and no structures or roadway were damaged.
Landslides are common on Whidbey Island because much of the soil is made up glacial and interglacial deposits. It’s unstable material and prone to giving way on steep slopes, especially when saturated by heavy rains. Bowers said residents who live above or below high bank areas can familiarize themselves with the warning signs that may indicate a landslide is imminent by visiting the Island County Department of Emergency Management website. It contains several links and maps that address the issue.