By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
November 15, 2006
Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort has been isolated by flooding that damaged or destroyed sections of Highway 35 — but Dave Riley, general manager, remains optimistic that a ski season can still happen.
“This is nothing that a lot of yellow equipment can’t take care of,” he said after viewing the damage.
To Riley, last week’s tour of the devastation with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and state Rep. Patti Smith felt like a case of deja vu. He had witnessed similar damage, often in the same areas, following storms in 2000 and 1996.
The latest disaster followed the same pattern of warm and heavy rains that saturated glacial sediment on Mount Hood. More than one million cubic yards of mud is believed to have cascaded down the slopes and entered waterways, picking up rocks and woody debris.
The White River jumped its banks after the channel filled in, carving a small gorge to the north of the Highway 35 bridge.
To the north of the Meadows access road, the culvert to Clark Creek also plugged, which diverted water into a deep channel along the side of the road. The shoulder of the highway was destroyed and the pavement was undercut.
Further north, Newton Creek bypassed its normal culvert and jumped over the road after gouging out a deep ditch for several hundred yards. Huge boulders — some as large as vehicles — sit atop sediment that is five to six feet high along the damaged sections of roadway.
However, most of the left lane of Highway 35 remains intact between the closure to the south of Baseline Drive and Meadows. Riley said employees are being bused up in the morning and evening to prepare the resort for the ski season, which typically begins within two weeks of the Thanksgiving holiday.
This weekend, the annual orientation for new and returning employees will take place in Hood River instead of at Meadows. Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Transportation is hard at work on the repairs that could cost as much as $20 million.
Meadows is Hood River County’s largest private employer and draws 90 percent of its workforce from the local area. However, 90 percent of the skiers — 500,000 last year — come from the south side of the mountain. So, Riley is unsure how business at Meadows will be affected in upcoming weeks if only Highway 35 is open. But he’ll take what he can get and said Hood River could enjoy a boom in its tourism trade if it is the sole corridor to the resort.
“We’ve got some time here so I’m optimistic. I’m just glad this isn’t happening in January,” said Riley.
The Nov. 9 tour of Highway 35 also included representatives from the governor’s office, ODOT, the U.S. Forest service and the Federal Highway Administration. Walden was flown over the areas as well as given a first-hand view from the ground.
“I think the good news is that everything’s on track and federal money is available for this type of situation,” said Walden. “At this point, everybody’s moving as fast as humanly possible so I’m hopeful we’ll get at least one access to Meadows open soon.”