Vail Valley: More mudslides ahead this spring? | VailDaily.com
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Vail Valley: More mudslides ahead this spring?

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyMike Foley, maintenance worker for the Colorado Department of Transportation, inspects a mudslide that crushed a metal retaining wall on U.S. Highway 6 Sunday between Eagle-Vail and Minturn
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” After heavy snowfall this winter, officials say more landslides like the one Sunday on U.S. Highway 6 could occur in Eagle County this spring.

About a 20-foot-wide section of mud, trees and rocks spilled onto one lane of U.S. Highway 6 Sunday about noon and broke part of a metal wall where crews had been working last week.

About a one-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 6 between Kayak Crossing apartments and the Interstate 70 interchange at Dowd Junction may be closed a “few days,” said Martha Miller, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The fallen mud is supporting the hillside, and crews must make sure a larger slide won’t occur before they clean it up and open the road, she said.

Exits on the interstate in Dowd Junction and in Eagle-Vail are still open.

Higher than average snowfall in Eagle County will increase the chances of more mudslides this spring, said Mark Vessely, geo-technical engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Soil types and the steep slopes are main factors in whether a landslide could occur, he said.

Some soils are less stable than others when holding large amounts of water, he said.

“Anywhere where we have slopes adjacent to our highways, we have a risk for landslides,” Vessely said. “Where they’re going to happen, there’s no real ways of predicting.”

Lynne Schleper, who owns Treasures Quality Consignments in Eagle-Vail, said business was slow Sunday. The store is usually busy Sundays, so she blames the mudslide.

“My employee called and said it was dead,” Schleper said.

She saw crews working last week around the retaining that was crushed on Highway 6 Sunday, she said.

“Whatever patchwork they did didn’t work,” she said.

Crews noticed that the metal wall had buckled April 2 and had been draining the water that had saturated the hillside and made the soil heavier, transportation officials said.

No one was injured in Sunday’s slide, Miller said.

“We knew we needed to respond and we were making efforts,” she said.

“Geologic conditions are hard to predict,” she said.

Sunday’s mudslide was “nothing,” said Audrey Gilden, who visits the Vail Valley sometimes.

“It’s just a dribble of stuff on the road,” she said.

But larger mudslides have closed interstate 70 in the past.

After a heavy downpour in July, a mudslide closed almost a football-field length of the west lanes of the interstate for several hours and trapped two cars. No one was injured.

Ollie Holdstock, who has lived the Vail Valley around 25 years, said he has seen landslides happen most often here when a lot of snow melts quickly.

“It’s going to be radical this year, I think,” Holdstock said.

The biggest one he has seen in the past was near Booth Falls in Vail, where one about a hundred yards wide and hundreds of yards long slid around 1985, he said.

“It was massive,” he said.

Usually spring is “rockfall season,” but more rocks could fall on roads if the Vail Valley has consistently warm temperatures, hastening runoff from a large amount of melting snow, said Ty Ortiz, rockfall specialist for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Water from melting snow and rain runs through hills, eroding gravel and clay that keep large boulders in place, he said. Spring freezing and thawing also expands and contracts rocks and soil, leading to more falling rocks, he said.

Tanya Vaca always sees rocks on U.S. Highway 24 when she drives east into Minturn, she said. A large boulder sat in the right lane Sunday, she said.

“That stretch right there in Minturn is dangerous,” she said.

A “Volkswagen-sized” boulder once rolled through the wall of woman’s Vail home and into her bed in the mid-1990s, said Monte Park, of Eagle-Vail.

“She was staying at her boyfriend’s,” he said. “Luckily she wasn’t there.”

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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