City of Whitehorse officials are reminding residents to stay away from Robert Service Way and the Millennium Trail.
“The key message is it’s an active area,” interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell said in a May 2 interview. “It’s a high-risk area. It’s really important that nobody enters the area.”
An escarpment slide on April 30 sent an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 cubic metres of debris into the Yukon River, blocking the road and trail.
In an update provided May 3 via Facebook, the city said the cause of the slide has been determined to be from saturated soils, given the record precipitation levels this winter.
O’Farrell spoke following the week’s city council meeting where engineering manager Taylor Eshpeter provided an update on the situation to council.
As reported, the slide occurred around 3 p.m. on April 30, with emergency services responding to 9-1-1 reports. There were no injuries, as some trail users in the area were able to stay out of the way. There was also no damage to vehicles, though a number passed through just before the slide.
“It quickly became evident that a large section of the escarpment just north of the eagle’s nest released, tore out the White Pass train tracks, crossed Robert Service Way, tore out the guardrail, a light standard, crossed the Millennium Trail, and came to a stop on the Yukon River ice,” Eshpeter said said. “Several small slides followed the initial slide.”
The roadway and part of the Millennium and airport trails have since been closed with initial assessments revealing tension cracks on the escarpment where the slide happened.
As Eshpeter explained when questioned by Coun. Ted Laking, it’s evident there was some movement following the slide which created the cracks. It’s unclear yet whether there is movement still happening, but officials will be using survey equipment to make determinations as the situation continues to be assessed.
No timeline has been set for the reopening of the roadway as the assessment is continuing.
“Once we get an assessment of the risks and how we can mitigate them, we will have a better sense of where we’re at,” Tracy Allen, the city’s director of operations, said following the meeting.
The city has released a number of public service announcements and social media posts about the situation and encouraging residents to stay away from the area.
While barricades have been in place since the closure, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists had been seen moving around the barricades and closure signs with Whitehorse Fire and Protective Services issuing a warning on social media May 1. Such actions, it was noted, put at risk both those making their way through the area and those who may have to assist anyone should there be more movement of the slope.
Allen said the city has since hired security personnel to assist in ensuring there are no unauthorized personnel.
“I know the temptation is there to go check it out,” she said. “Unless you’re an authorized person to enter the site, people should not be entering the site.”
Alternative routes and transportation
Eshpeter said the city will be closely monitoring the impact of the road closure and has the ability to adjust traffic signals on Hamilton Boulevard and Two Mile Hill if necessary.
“During the closure of Robert Service Way, commuters are being encouraged to adjust their travel routes and times of travel, carpool, use active transportation, work from home where possible and use Whitehorse Transit,” he said, going on to note that one transit route needed to be altered in light of the situation.
“Similarly, the provider of school bussing services was informed of the closure of Robert Service Way shortly after the road closure and has adjusted school bus routes accordingly,” he said.
An email sent out to families of school students on May 2 notes that due to the road closure school buses are being rerouted and there may be delays. It also reminds those who drive students to school to use caution and be aware of traffic and/or delays.
Allen confirmed, when questioned by Coun. Michelle Friesen, that additional maintenance work — putting extra sand on trails for example — is happening on active transportation routes.
Once the slide assessment is done and the area has been deemed safe, the city will begin moving the debris and making repairs. With some debris on river ice, it’s expected environment and fisheries authorizations will be needed for the cleanup.
As assessment work continues and will be used to determine when the road and trails will reopen, a more in-depth assessment of the entire escarpment has also been planned (with those plans in place prior to the slide). A landslide specialist has been hired to be part of that comprehensive assessment.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org