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Meadows cheers Highway 35 reopening

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

December 6, 2006

Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort President Dave Riley applauded after learning at Monday’s meeting in Hood River that the Oregon Department of Transportation would reopen Highway 35 in both directions at 5 a.m. on Saturday.

Although the resort won’t open until 9 a.m. as usual, Riley was excited about getting the business up and running during its most profitable months. Meadows has been inaccessible to recreationists since Nov. 7 debris flows washed out 2.5 miles of the roadway.

“We have five feet of settled snow in the base area, more than six feet at mid-mountain, and we’ve had time to groom it,” said Riley. “That is substantially more than what we would normally open with and we look forward to getting as much of the mountain open as conditions allow.”

Riley said the 1,000 seasonal employees who have been “on hold” are excited about finally getting to work. The majority of Meadows personnel come from Hood River County and the company feeds a $5 million payroll back into the community.

“I think this made us all very aware of the importance of this highway,” said Riley.

Meadows is planning a “Glacial Outburst: I Survived 35” party on Dec. 16. The fun-filled event will feature the Paul deLay Band — with a focus on the “Delay,” quipped Riley.

“We have a lot to celebrate and we are going to be honoring all of the officials who helped us get the job done,” he said.

Karla Keller, Region 1 operations manager for ODOT, briefed her audience at the Dec. 4 meeting about the massive undertaking to repair the highway so quickly. Last weekend, the agency and contractor Tri-State Construction had more than 50 pieces of heavy equipment on the ground, including excavators, bulldozers, dump trucks and loaders. ODOT officials estimate that about 400,000 cubic yards of material has been moved, with crews working 24 hours a day in some locations.

Although the rebuilt sections of Highway 35 near Newton and Clark creeks, and to the north of the White River Bridge will be easily accessible, the repairs continue. ODOT estimates that only 50 percent of its work has been completed. Equipment will continue to clear out the channel to the White River Bridge and its underspan, both of which were completely filled with materials.

The price tag for the 2006 event is expected to be at least $20 million and possibly higher. State and federal officials are in agreement with ODOT that a long-term fix is needed to prevent ongoing emergency expenditures.

The Nov. 7 flood damage was greater than the 2000 washouts in the same areas after 600,000 cubic yards of glacial material slid down the mountain slopes. Other past storms have caused similar damage along the highway.

ODOT has prepared a “Hot Spot” study of the seven major flood zones. With the latest repairs almost completed, the agency plans to pursue long-term solutions to the ongoing problem, such as building a longer and larger bridge over the White River.

The U.S. Forest Service has closed the White River West Snow Park for the 2006-07 season. Agency officials said an embankment has eroded in one location, creating a 40 foot cliff that makes the area unsafe for sledding or inner-tubing.

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