Most Thurston County roads have reopened after floods, but some work still ahead

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Damage assessments are underway, and most county roads have reopened after the snow and flooding earlier this winter, according to Thurston County officials.

Public Works crews closed 42 roads, placed signs at 130 locations where water was over the roadways and responded to nine slides, Road Operations Manager Mike Lowman told the Board of County Commissioners last week.

The steps were taken in response to widespread flooding that occurred on Jan. 6. Prior to the flooding, snow and exceptionally cold temperatures also affected roadways.

County response, by the numbers

Lowman said staff plowed 7,344 miles of roads and applied more than 1,200 tons of sand or salt during the snow. They did so with 12 plow trucks, eight sanders and three road graders, he said.

The county’s response to the snow faced several challenges. For one, more snow accumulated than staff initially expected, Lowman said.

Temperatures also dropped dramatically, causing damp sand in sanders to freeze, he said. To address the issue, he said staff mixed salt with the sand.

“This pattern of recurring snowfall followed by extreme cold lead to a quick buildup of significant compact snow and ice on roadways,” Lowman said. “And this delayed our ability to move beyond our primary routes and delayed our response time to some portions of our service areas.”

Lowman said Public Works also had to make do with a 65% staffing level. He attributed the staffing shortage to vacancies, illness and scheduled absences during the holidays.

“This event was definitely uncommon to the Pacific Northwest and presented several unique challenges,” Lowman said.

Next comes the floods

Melting snow then saturated the topsoil, causing excess rainfall to rapidly flow into rivers from Jan. 5-8, said Medic One Advanced Life Support Program Manager Ben Miller-Todd.

The Chehalis River at Grand Mound entered flood stage on Jan. 6 and crested the next day at 145.2 feet, according to Miller-Todd. The county had to make four rescues, but there were no fatalities due to flooding.

Meanwhile, the Skookumchuck River near Bucoda crested at nearly 216 feet, Miller-Todd said. This crest almost equaled the previous record of 216 feet, he added. Two rescues occurred but no one died due to the Skookumchuck flooding.

Water levels at the Deschutes River near Rainier almost reached moderate flood stage, Miller-Todd said, but it crested at about 13 feet. No rescues were needed, he said.

The Nisqually River never reached flood stage, Miller-Todd said.

In all, 6-8 inches of rain were recorded throughout Thurston County from Jan. 5-8, according to Miller-Todd.

Lowman said county staff delivered more than 80 tons of bulk sand, over 6,500 empty sandbags and 11,500 filled sandbags to various fire stations and cities.

Current conditions

As of Thursday morning, Lowman said one road remained closed due to flood damage, three locations still had water over the roadway and there were nine slide locations.

Sunrise Beach Road, which runs along the shores of Eld Inlet, was impacted by a landslide on Jan. 6, limiting access for about 50 homes.

“We have a contractor lined up ready to go and our consultant is preparing a remedy plan,” Lowman said. “The fix will be very doable, but it will be expensive, and it will take some time to do.”

A slide also affected Munson Road near Swift Creek in west Thurston County. Lowman said staff are keeping one lane open to allow access to about 28 homes until repairs are complete.

The Chehalis Western Trail also was impacted by a slide, prompting crews to close the trail at milepost 14. Lowman said the trail remains in good condition, but crews still need to clear the trail once an arborist deems the area safe.

Crews started bridge inspections on Jan. 10, he said. All county bridges appear to be in good shape, Lowman said, but some repairs may be needed in the summer.

Miller-Todd encouraged residents to report any flood and landslide damage assessments to Thurston County as it may bring direct assistance to county residents.

Damage estimates can be submitted online by visiting the county’s Emergency Management website.

Public Works staff update road conditions on their travel impacts website.

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