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Slides Block 2 Highways Kootenai County Scurries To Fix Eroding Hayden Lake Levee

Mudslides blocked two highways in North Idaho Wednesday, while favorable weather conditions continued to keep major flooding at bay.

Hillsides all over North Idaho have become unstable as winter snow melts and spring rain falls.

“It is just oozy goo,” said Barbara Babbic of the state Department of Transportation.

A mudslide shut down U.S. Highway 95 south of Bonners Ferry Wednesday afternoon after a hillside collapsed for a second time in a week, blocking both lanes of the road.

Another slide Wednesday morning covered state Highway 97 on Wolf Lodge Bay, two miles south of the Interstate 90 junction, with an estimated 1,000 cubic yards of mud and rocks.

No one was injured in either slide.

Idaho Department of Transportation crews cleared Highway 97 by 3:15 p.m.

“We had boulders the size of large pickup trucks,” Babbic said. The largest boulders were dumped into the adjacent lake, although the dirt and other material was hauled away, she said.

Crews also worked through the night to clear the 150-foot-long slide south of Bonners Ferry, which spread a four-foot deep layer of trees and debris on the highway.

The slide, two miles south of Bonners Ferry, occurred about 3 p.m. It’s the same spot where the hillside tumbled down last week, sweeping one motorist off the road and nearly burying him in his car.

There was no estimate when the highway would be reopened. Cars are being detoured onto County Road 2 through Deep Creek and Naples. Commercial truck traffic was stopped because the detour route won’t handle the heavy loads, county officials said.

While transportation officials battled sloughing hillsides, Kootenai County officials were trying to repair the deteriorating Hayden Lake levee.

Earlier this month the county built a temporary spillway by taking 4 feet off the top of a section of dike, covering it with plastic and weighing down the plastic with sandbags.

The purpose was to take pressure off the levee, which not only holds back the lake, but contains sewer and gas lines.

But the roiling action of water running over the spillway was eating away at the back side of the dike.

“At the rate it’s going, it’ll cut its own groove,” said Hayden Lake Fire District Chief Wayne Syth, who visited the spillway Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth stopped by to watch a crane lower dozens of sandbags into the spillway in an attempt to stop the erosion.

Disaster services coordinator Bill Schwartz said the crane was necessary because it was too dangerous to have people placing sandbags in the rushing water. The work will continue today.

Residents along the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe rivers continued to keep a wary eye on the rivers, although they both remained below flood stage.

Benewah County is stockpiling sand, sandbags and concrete highway barriers at strategic points along the 14 miles of levees around St. Maries.

Federal money still hasn’t reached the county for levee improvements and civil defense director George Currier is worried about some weak points and low spots in the levee system.

After school, St. Maries High School students are helping fill sandbags. On Wednesday, resident Gerry Brown loaned the volunteers his homemade hopper, designed especially for filling sandbags.

The St. Joe River was expected to remain near flood stage for the next couple of days, said Brian Avery, National Weather Service hydrologist.

But the forecast was mostly favorable “in terms of taking out a little bit of the snowpack at a time,” he said.

While rain is in the forecast, it isn’t expected to be heavy. Also, temperatures are supposed to be cooler heading into the weekend.

Shoshone County didn’t report any flooding problems or mudslides Wednesday.

In Bonner County, Dufort Road remains closed. Saturated hillsides keep slipping onto the road, making it unsafe. The major east-west route was supposed to be cleared last weekend but it may be early next week before it’s reopened to traffic.

Both Bonner and Boundary counties have declared emergencies to get federal money for repairs and cleanup of flooded and washed out roads. Sandbags are available for residents in Boundary County at the landfill and in Bonner County at the Colburn transfer station. Residents need to bring their own shovels and fill the bags themselves.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 Color); Map of mudslide area

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Susan Drumheller and Kevin Keating Staff writers The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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