Burpee Hill Rd. fix to come

By Jason Miller
(Updated 3.7.11, 5:22 p.m.)

Editor’s note: Watch for updates to this article throughout March.

Both lanes of Burpee Hill Road in Concrete reopened today for local traffic. A Skagit County road maintenance crew began work earlier in the day and finished ahead of schedule, at 2:20 p.m.

The work will cost Town of Concrete $6,000, according to Mayor Judd Wilson, who inspected the site within minutes of completion. That’s half the estimated cost of $12,000.

“It’s open–for now,” said Wilson. “We’re going to be keeping a close eye on this stretch of road, especially with more rain coming.”

Town officials will continue to seek FEMA funding for a permanent fix, one that will remove the 15-foot-thick layer of sandy soil that lies on top of a more sturdy clay base. The sandy layer is less stable when saturated with water during heavy rain and snow events, such as those Concrete experienced in January.

(posted 3.2.11)

Concrete Mayor Judd Wilson said a plan is in place to create a short-term, one-lane passage open only to local traffic along a sagging stretch of Burpee Hill Rd. by March 11.

During the Concrete Town Council meeting March 1, town engineer Jim Hobbs with Reichardt & Ebe Engineering confirmed the estimate, adding that work could begin on the short-term fix as early as March 4. He added that the project should take two days to complete.

Inclement weather is to blame for the project’s delay, said Hobbs. “The county had originally planned to begin work last week,” he said during the March 1 council meeting. “We understand the hardship this is placing on people. Unfortunately, we don’t have much control over what Mother Nature is dishing out.”

Wilson closed the road Jan. 18 after slides damaged two in-town sections. The larger of the two slides affected a 160-foot section of the road, which connects Superior Ave. North in Concrete and Baker Lake Rd. at the Lake Tyee community.

An analysis of the larger slide began within days of the closure. Bellingham-based GeoEngineers drilled core samples and has consulted with Wilson and Hobbs to determine short- and long-term strategies for repairing the road.

On Feb. 25, Wilson told Concrete Herald that he had instructed Hobbs to plan a weight-restricted, one-lane passage through the larger slide area, open only to local traffic.

“Right now, we’re hoping to have the one lane open by no later than March 11, weather permitting,” said Wilson.

Town of Concrete and Skagit County would work together to build the one-lane passage, and would share the cost, said Wilson.

Hobbs stated during the Feb. 14 Concrete Town Council meeting that a short-term fix such as the one-lane strategy would probably cost around $12,000. His plan at the time was to remove the damaged roadway and fill any sinkholes beneath it with quarry spall before spreading gravel to create a temporary roadway. He repeated this strategy during the March 1 council meeting.

Economic toll
The road closure was a hot topic during the Concrete Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting Feb. 10. Several Concrete business owners reported an immediate and sustained dip in sales that began within days after the road closure. Some Lake Tyee residents in attendance, and dozens others later via e-mail correspondence, have stated that they’ve begun bringing their own food and other supplies with them, rather than make the longer run to Concrete forced by the closure. Many named the dollar amounts that they spend each month at Concrete businesses, even during the winter months. Taken in aggregate, the amounts add up to thousands of dollars that are no longer flowing into Concrete. That’s exactly what worried Concrete business owners.

“Once you reach Highway 20 at Baker Lake Road, are you going to turn left or right?” one downtown business owner told Concrete Herald after the Feb. 10 Chamber meeting.

There is a concern for emergency response times, too, among Lake Tyee residents. In e-mail correspondence received during the week of Feb. 21, dozens of residents urged Wilson and Concrete Town Council to restore the road as soon as possible so that response times to Lake Tyee could be halved. Others told stories of emergency situations that were resolved rapidly when Burpee Hill Road was open. A handful of Lake Tyee residents attended the March 1 council meeting to support the short-term fix to the road.

Mayor Wilson acknowledged business owners’ concerns while stating his position on the closure.

“We’re going to lose business until we get that road open,” he said. “Right now, my first priority is to keep our citizens safe. And when I closed that road, I removed a liability from the town.”

Long-term fix
Wilson and Hobbs currently are investigating the possibility of FEMA funding to finance a long-term fix, which would restore the road to its condition before the larger slide. That slide is deeper seated, according to Hobbs, “with saturated sand layers butting up against stiffer silt layers,” he said. Fixing such a slide would require digging down to the stiffer layers, then building up the hillside with compacted gravel. FEMA funding will allow no more rebuilding than what is needed to restore the road to its original condition. The goal of the long-term fix will be to improve drainage on the uphill side of the road in an attempt to keep the roadbed from saturating. “That’s what’s causing the issue,” said Hobbs.

Concrete Town Council will address the road closure on the second and fourth Mondays of each month until it is resolved. The council’s Feb. 28 meeting was postponed to March 1 because of heavy snow.

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