Slip, sliding away

The slide area at Judah Hill near Peace River. It is one of many slides in the Peace.

Several slides in region causing headaches

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A landslide has closed the highway on both sides of the Whitemud River north of Peace River.

South of the river, drivers are being detoured to Highway 743 via Highway 686. North of the Whitemud River, drivers are directed to take Highway 35 north to Highway 690 east and then Highway 743 south.

Government officials say it will take 10 days to repair and allow traffic to use the highway again.

The northbound lane of Highway 744 just past the Sagitawa Lookout outside Peace River also remains closed to traffic due to a slide listed on Alberta 511 since June 19.

The Judah Hill slide in Northern Sunrise County is the responsibility of Alberta Transportation. Judah Hill is notorious for slides and has already undergone extensive repairs and slope stabilization.

Northern Sunrise County heard a presentation on the latest slides from Ryan Kono- walyk, regional director of Alberta Transportation, at their regular council meeting on June 23.

Konowalyk says there are six active slides on Judah that would cost in the neighbourhood of $30 million to repair.

“That’s a little bit of a longer term outlook,” Konowalyk says.

He says three of the slides need more immediate attention, including the slide closing the lane at the top, which will need a realignment and a pile wall.

Another dip closer to the bottom of the hill and a slide just above the last pile wall which Konowalyk says is the worst of the three also need attention.

“We’d actually need to construct two pile walls and tie them together because it’s failing out both ways. That’s a super expensive part of the fix.”

He says the cost to repair the slides will be $20 million and another $10 million in the following five years.

“All I can really say is we’re looking at all the options right now.”

Konowalyk says those options could include everything from repairs, to turning portions of the road back to gravel, to no longer having a highway there.

However, he says that is not his decision and there is no active plan to close the highway.

“Certainly as a local I want Judah Hill open, as a taxpayer I have a hard time fathoming $30 million and probably more after that into a highway where there’s an alternate route,” he says.

“Well, for our residents it’s crucial that it stay open, so whatever we need to do to advocate with you,” says Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba.

Konowalyk says money for the repairs would help.

“That appears to be what the Province wants us to do now is start spending money on their infrastructure and they are busy downloading onto us,” Reeve Kolebaba says.

Konowalyk says the Province does have some money set aside for slides after he advocated to help designate slides as a capital investment, which has already allowed Transportation to do some slide repairs before total failures of local roads.

“This spring has been terrible. We’re dealing with a pile of slides right now. It’s wet and it’s ugly,” Konowalyk says.

He adds it depends on what money is available overall and where priorities have to lie.

He says at the moment, Highway 40 from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache is a priority since it’s the only road in and out, and is seeing heavy industrial use and driving the economy despite the downtown.

“We’ve got three spots where we’ve turned it back to gravel or we’re down to alternating lanes,” he says.

“So I’m not touching Judah until I can address 40,” he says.

“On [Judah] just because it’s down to one lane, it’s not likely you’ll see us out there fixing it this summer. It would probably be something we’d be trying to slot in for next summer.”

Councillor Dan Boisvert says the Judah Hill road is still an evacuation route for one-third of the town of Peace River. He says the goal of the residents is to avoid eight-month long road closures, and the county also wants to help make the Sagitawa Lookout parking lot safer and has purchased some land to help do that.

Konowalyk says Judah Hill should really be a local road rather than a provincial highway.

“The Province took it and we’re not taking it back,” says Kolebaba.

Konowalyk says a smaller slide by Marie Reine will be addressed through maintenance soon, while two other slides on Judah Hill including the lower one that could possibly impact the railway will be priorities for fixing.

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