Work begins on clearing Waterfront Trail landslide in Port Angeles; expected to reopen today or Saturday
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An excavator moves a tree to clear a section of the Waterfront Trail in Port Angeles on Thursday after a slide forced the closure of the trail. Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — City crews plan to reopen today or Saturday a stretch of Olympic Discovery Trail now blocked by a landslide.

Rocks, dirt and 20-25 trees slid down the hillside and onto the path between City Pier and Francis Street Park on Sunday. Debris covered about 30 feet of the popular trail.

“We’ve got good weather,” city Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said Thursday as crews set to work.

“Our goal is to get it opened by the weekend.”

The portion of trail — called the Waterfront Trail as it runs through Port Angeles — has been closed since Sunday from just east of the Red Lion Hotel to just west of Francis Street Park.

Before city crews could begin work clearing it, the city had to get permission from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to put debris into the harbor during a “fish window,” now in effect through July. Fish windows are scheduled to limit disturbance of fish habitat during migration.

The city received state permission Tuesday, Delikat said, adding that rainy weather delayed work until Thursday.

City crews can react to landslides only as they happen because building a retaining wall or other preventive measures would be too expensive, Delikat said.

“There’s just no way for us to manage something like that,” he said.

Delikat estimated that his department has spent between $15,000 and $17,500 per year over the past 10 years clearing slides from areas along the Waterfront Trail.

“It’s an ongoing issue,” he said.

Delikat said slides happen year-round because the hillside is north-facing and never really dries out due to a lack of direct sunlight.

The bluff hillside loses stability when trees and other larger vegetation, which anchor the soil with their roots and suck up water from the hillside, are removed, city associate planner Scott Johns said.

“[You have] a series of contributing factors, and something gives,” Johns said.

About 20 homes and Olympic Medical Center line the top of the bluff that the Waterfront Trail skirts, he estimated.

Private property owners need “view enhancement” permits from the city to clear large vegetation, Johns said.

The city typically adds conditions, such as replanting smaller vegetation that will still stabilize the hillside, to such permits, Johns said.

He added that sometimes, landowners remove vegetation without a permit.

“If we don’t catch them with a smoking chain saw, we have little recourse,” Johns said.

Johns said he recently reviewed a permit in which the landowner planned to add 100 smaller plants to the hillside after clearing taller vegetation.

“And that’s what we want to see,” Johns said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 20. 2014 6:02PM
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