Jun 18, 2015

Repairs to Wind River Canyon road continue; initial cost at $200,000

Motorists need to schedule extra time for trips through Wind River Canyon as crews clean up the leftover debris from last month’s massive mudslide.

The road through the canyon, U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming 789, closed May 24 because of the sliding mud and reopened May 26.

Restoring the railroad to usable condition took heavy equipment and days of work. Cody News Co. photo by Dave Bonner
A temporary cleanup is still underway and permanent repairs are planned for next year. 

Rain was the cause for the trouble.

“Some people say as much as 4 inches in the Canyon,” said Cody Beers, a regional Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman, adding, “We had mud running across the road in 10 places.”

The slide area ran about six or seven miles in the canyon. Approximately 100 feet of guardrail must be replaced, Beers said.

The contractor conducting the temporary cleanup, Pab Good Trucking LLC of Greybull, is removing dirt and big rocks. Pilot cars are leading motorists through the area under repair, Beers said.

“Traffic will be controlled with flaggers, and travelers should expect delays of up to 15 minutes,” said Pete Hallsten, Department District 5 maintenance engineer in Basin. “Please slow down and allow this important safety project to happen in a safe manner.”

WYDOT has found motorists to be understanding.

“The people have been pretty patient with the process,” Beers said.

He said earlier this week that the cleanup would likely take another 10 days.

The temporary emergency clean up will cost about $200,000. Beers doesn’t know how much it will cost to permanently repair the highway next year, but said “it’s going to be extremely expensive by the time it’s done.”

The department is asking its geologist to examine the terrain. Slopes will need rebuilding, and they may need to design the road to allow mud and moisture to run from the newly lacerated slopes under the road to the river, Beers said.

Muddy train tracks

Four miles of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) track were impacted by the slide and the railroad had to reroute its traffic through Gillette for nearly a week.

“The line through the Wind River Canyon was out of service from May 24 to May 29,” said Matthew Jones, a regional spokesman for BNSF Railway. “There were multiple areas where debris from rock and mud slides impacted the rail grade between milepost 323 and MP 327 (near Dornick). We are still doing work in the area to clean up from the slides.”

Jones said he did not have a cost estimate Monday.

The fish are alright

The mudslide had little or no impact on fish in the Wind River.

Mike Mazur, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist, said that for fish, the slides would have likely been similar to spring high water.

“It should still be a really good fishery,” Mazur said.

Actually, he said some of the large stones that tumbled into the river should create places where fish can rest.

“I think, over time, it will probably be beneficial,” Mazur said.

Native Americans have jurisdiction in the canyon because it's within the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Fish and Wildlife Service assists the tribes in managing the reservation’s fish and animals, Mazur said.

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