Beaver dams burst, blocking Richardson Highway with debris. Twice.

A beaver swimming through the water
A beaver. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Larry Smith)

Burst beaver dams caused landslides that blocked the Richardson Highway near Paxson — first on July 1, then again Monday.

Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Danielle Tessen says that on both occasions, beaver dams built uphill of the highway near mile 187 swelled ponds, eventually breaking the dams.

“Essentially a whole flash flood of debris, materials and water from the ponds comes slashing down the side of the hill and covers the road,” she said.

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No vehicles were caught in either slide, and in both incidents the highway was cleared and re-opened in about two hours, said Tessen. But there’s concern that another release could result in a more serious outcome.

“You know, the first time you’re like, ‘Whoo, that was lucky,’” she said. “And then the second time I was like, ‘Okay, this is really lucky.’”

Tessen said the state transportation department’s materials experts are going over the site to better understand the situation and consider possible remedies.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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