It was the news that nobody want to hear, with the August long weekend about to get underway as well as the Squamish Days Logger Sports Festival. At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon suggested that it could be five days before the Sea to Sky Highway reopens, after a massive rockslide closed it at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening.
There’s still no word on what caused the slide, which took place during a heavy rainstorm, but no construction work was taking place in the area when a 100-metre wide section of the bluffs just north of the Porteau Cove camping area collapsed onto the highway. The rock was piled 10 metres deep in some areas, with boulders as large as the excavation equipment brought to the site to clear the road.
The initial estimate was that the area could be cleaned up by Thursday, but now it will be likely be Saturday at the earliest. One of the reasons for the delay is concern over a slab of rock overhanging the slide that will have to be scaled back or demolished before crews can remove the rubble.
Many of the boulders at the bottom of the bluff will also have to be reduced in size before they can be trucked out. Although there was some suggestion of removing the debris by barge, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans would not permit it.
Nobody was injured in the slide, although a northbound bus carrying one passenger had the windows on one side smashed out by debris as the slide was getting underway. They said there was nobody else on the road that could have been caught in the slide, but sniffer dogs were brought to the scene to be sure.
The slide creates difficulties for people on either side of it. Workers who live in Squamish and commute to Vancouver are unable to get to work, while long weekend vacationers will be unable to get to Whistler, or to Squamish to enjoy the Logger Sports Festival.
The debris also damaged the train tracks running along side the highway. It’s unknown when they will reopen to freight or the Whistler Mountaineer passenger train.
Some options are available to people who have to travel. By air, people can fly to Whistler on Helijet, Whistler Air, or by charter out of Pemberton. People can also drive the long way around through the Fraser Canyon, Lillooet and the Duffey Lake Road.
Dave Crebo, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, confirmed that the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement Project crews were not working in the area at the time of the slide. He also could not say whether the rain contributed to the slide, or how often the slopes along Highway 99 are checked by crews.
“I know the area is prone to slides, it’s a very rugged area and we do look at it regularly, but I’m not sure if that exact area has had a slide before,” he said.
“Next summer, 2009, I know we will be making a concentrated effort, as much as humanly possible, to make sure the entire highway is secure with rock scaling slope stabilization in advance of 2010. Everything possible is being done to make sure this type of event doesn’t happen during the Olympics.”
Updates on the road will be posted on the Drive B.C. website at www.drivebc.ca.