Heavy rains blamed for landslide that wiped out Sitka restoration projects

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SITKA, Alaska — Heavy rainfall has been blamed for a major landslide near Sitka that wiped out hundreds of thousands of dollars in watershed-restoration projects.

The rains also caused damage to a footbridge and trails, including one that had been repaired after flooding last January.

On Sept. 19, a state biologist noticed that Starrigavan Creek had been diverted onto an old logging road. U.S. Forest Service employees went to check on things this past Monday.

Marty Becker, watershed program coordinator for the Forest Service's Sitka Ranger District, estimated the area of the main slide, one of three slides they discovered, at around 100 acres. It started in the old-growth timber high on the valley slope and ran to the valley floor.

Becker told KCAW (http://bit.ly/1ryh679 ) the ranger district hasn't seen a cluster of slides like this since the mid-1990s.

Sitka didn't receive an unusual amount of rainfall, but the rains came hard and fast. On the day the Herring Cove Trail, on the other side of town, was damaged, 3 ½ inches of rainfall were officially recorded at the airport. But Becker said rain gauges in some parts of town recorded nearly seven inches.

The trail is next to a footbridge that didn't move but is effectively sitting on dry land because the recent rains pushed rocks under the bridge, turning it into a dam.

"The couple of events we've had this summer have been a little out of the ordinary for sure, but yeah, we're not even in the rainy season, and we lose our seasonal crew in a couple of weeks," Forest Service recreation manager Mike Mullin said. "And obviously Forest Service budgets for maintaining trails are on the decline. So we've got a lot of things working against us."

In the Starrigavan Valley, about 10 miles from town, three coho-rearing ponds were destroyed and a fourth was almost completely filled with dirt. Fish culverts were blown out, and a half-mile of stream, test plots and 300 meters of ATV trail are gone.

The agency was working on a full inventory of the damage before looking at possible next steps.

Last year, two people at a Forest Service cabin at Redoubt Lake near Sitka escaped moments before the mountainside came down. The slide is comparable in size to this one, but the resource damage with the latest slide is greater, Becker said.


Information from: KCAW-FM, http://www.kcaw.org

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