Slide strands cars, homes evacuated in Langley

Eric Levine and his dog Angel look down at the landslide and emergency personnel minutes after the event occurred. “Whoa, what’s this?,” Levine said as Angel viewed the scene curiously.  - Jim Larsen / The Record
Eric Levine and his dog Angel look down at the landslide and emergency personnel minutes after the event occurred. “Whoa, what’s this?,” Levine said as Angel viewed the scene curiously.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

One hundred cubic yards of earth slid from Cascade Avenue down to Wharf Street, blocking the road and trapping dozens of cars Friday afternoon.

Heavy snow stacked on top of the bluff Friday morning, then quickly melted as temperatures rose. Land gave way at 1 p.m. as the weight increased and the dirt became unstable, leading to a sudden slide that stretched 60 feet on Wharf Street. Jim Larsen / The Record | Wharf Street was entirely blocked by the landslide debris that fell from Cascade Avenue. Cars parked at the Langley Marina were stranded and walking was a difficult and risky undertaking.

While a crew cleared the mud and shrubs, a secondary slide occurred at about 4 p.m. Part of the secondary slide splintered a power pole which cut energy to Wharf Street and the marina.

“We are monitoring it daily,” said Mayor Fred McCarthy.

Homes below the slide area were evacuated as a precaution and sandbags were placed in front of the Boatyard Inn to prevent mud from sliding into its building.

Costs for the cleanup and stability assessments were not immediately available. An assessment by Martin McCabe from URS Engineering stated Cascade Avenue and the bluff are now safe.

Passengers on the Mystic Sea whale watching tour out of Langley Marina were stranded on the wrong side of the slide. With their cars parked down near the marina, whale watchers were left wondering how they would get home. City staff directed the visitors to Island Transit. Staff and resident volunteers John and Nancy Anderson-Taylor, Shannon McCarthy and Edouard Stringer drove them to the Clinton Ferry Terminal and set up accommodations in the city, Clinton, Freeland and Greenbank. All whale watching visitors were dispatched from city hall by 7 p.m.

“I’m very proud of our people,” McCarthy said. “Everybody pulled together.”

Power was finally restored to the area by 2:30 a.m. Saturday after Puget Sound Energy evaluated and repaired the broken pole and blown transformer.

Further cleanup Saturday was filled with hindrance after hindrance. One of Island Asphalt’s box blades needed repairs, then once it was fixed, the vehicle had a flat tire. The company used a backhoe to scrape debris off the road. An AQUA Clean Vacu Truck also suffered a flat tire that night, which further slowed the cleaning process.

Drivers whose vehicles were trapped at the marina were able to drive out by 4 p.m. Saturday. An hour later, Wharf Street was open to its residents, but closed to further access.

“My concern is that when we have a growing community down there with a new marina and people moving there and building homes, we need to have another means of ingress and egress for people,” said Councilman Hal Seligson. Jim Larsen / The Record | Vounteer firefighter Will Piepenbrink begins blocking off the Cascade Avenue  sidewalk with traffic cones shortly after arriving at the slide area, assuring the safety of pedestrians.

He proposed connecting Sunrise Lane to Wharf Street, which would create a continuous waterfront from Seawall Park to the marina.

Weekend whale watching is a large draw to Langley, so with the street still closed Saturday, McCarthy devised a plan for visitors to access the marina by walking on the beach from Seawall Park. Residents with beachfront homes allowed whale watchers to cross their property to reach the Mystic Sea docked at the harbor.

Suddenly, Langley’s electric golf cart ordinance came into play. With marina street access out, so was parking. Langley directed whale watching visitors to park at the Island Church of Whidbey and Langley United Methodist park and ride lots. From there, an electric golf cart shuttled passengers to Boy and Dog Park on First Street, from which the tourists could access Seawall Park by staircase and finally the marina.

“Everyone was in a festive mood,” said Fred Lundahl, a Langley shop owner and member of the Langley Main Street Association which operates the golf cart. “And many folks commented on how well the town had pitched in together to respond to this unforeseen natural disaster of the mudslides closing off the marina.”

Traffic was rerouted from Cascade Avenue for several days after the slide as a precaution until the bluff’s stability was assured. By Tuesday, Wharf Street access was restricted to marina access for business and residents only.

Langley’s public works department patched the curb with asphalt on Cascade Avenue where breaks occurred from the slide.

Sound Slope Solutions will handle covering the exposed landslide areas. Materials such as a porous covering will allow vegetation that helps stabilize the bluff to grow, while also keeping the soil from rapidly washing away. Heggenes Arboreal was asked to assess the condition and stability of the trees on the slope.

“Maybe this will be an opportunity to show some techniques that will work,” McCarthy said.

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