City learns the cost of repairing Howelsen Hill mudslide damage
July 24, 2014
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs anticipates the cost of fixing the deep scars left on its historic ski hill by a spring mudslide won’t be as substantial as some of the hill’s previous repair bills.
This time around, the city was able to choose between two very different ways of fixing what is a common byproduct of the hill moving and slumping in the spring.
Option A will cost in the neighborhood of $35,000 to $45,000 and involves removing excess top soil and improving drainage in the slide area.
Option B would have been a potential budget buster.
It would mitigate future landslides with a technique called soil nailing but could cost an estimated $1.25 million to $1.5 million.
For a number of reasons, the city plans to move forward with the much cheaper option A.
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“We could deal with a lot more slides at $35,000 to $45,000 before we hit that $1.5 million repair,” Howelsen Hill Facilities Supervisor Craig Robinson said Wednesday. “We have done some soil nailing on areas near the ski jumps, but those areas were very small compared to this slide.”
Northwest Colorado Consultants studied the damage and outlined the two major repair options that carry very different price tags.
NWCC estimated the slide area is about 200 feet wide by 200 feet long.
The head scarps at the top of the slide area reportedly are 3 to 5 feet deep.
“Ideally on clay slopes you have about 4 to 6 inches of top soil on top, and we have 4 to 6 feet in places,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he has heard that soil nailing could carry a warranty in the repair area, but it would not guarantee against future slides.
The most recent slide is poised to change how the city budgets for slides at Howelsen.
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet recently told the Parks and Recreation Commission that the city plans to start including $50,000 each year in its capital improvement budget to pay for any future repairs from landslides.
The city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years repairing other slumps and slides on the hill.
Robinson said the city is hoping to start the repair work on the most recent slide as early as next month, and the initial cost estimates could change depending on the final costs that come back from a contractor.
“The plan has always been to do something this summer and take care of it and have it come back with green grass and nice slopes,” Robinson said.
The city has for decades now had to clean up after spring mudslides and slumps on Howelsen Hill.
One of the most significant slides on the hill struck in 1976 and temporarily halted the construction of ski jumps.
In 1982, the ski jumps on the hill were significantly damaged by mudslides.
Then Parks and Recreation Director John Thrasher theorized at the time that heavy snowmaking near the jumps that year had “aggravated” the problem.
That theory that heavy snowmaking on the hill increases the likelihood of mud slides continues to influence how the hill is managed today.
Right after the hill closes, a groomer pushes most of the snow off of the hill so it is not able to melt and saturate the hill in the spring.
However, even that tactic was not enough to keep the hill stable this year.
"I never know what to expect," Robinson said in April before he climbed up the steep slopes to get a closer look at the slide. "Just about every year, something is moving up here."