The community of Lowell Point near Seward now has a date to look forward to: June 1.
That’s when the teams working on clearing the landslide on Lowell Point Road hope to have it back open to traffic. At that point, it will have been almost a month since a landslide first sent debris and trees across the road, blocking the small community’s only road access to Seward.
“We wanted to provide, mainly, an update to residents of Lowell Point so they can be prepared and understand that this is going to be a long-term response and that they should be prepared accordingly with their supply needs,” said Brenda Ahlberg, emergency manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Seward-based company Metco Alaska is working long days to remove debris from the slide, said co-owner Cole Petersen. He said Thursday he thinks they’re at a turning point.
“I would say as of yesterday, we’re officially clearing the landslide,” he said. “And everything up to this point has been to get it as stable up high as we can.”
He said if the landslide looks larger now than it did before, it’s because crews have to bring down material to make sure nothing falls from overhead while they’re working.
Another company, Wasilla’s Advanced Blasting, is using explosives to move loose debris. Those explosions are going off once or twice a day.
Petersen said his company’s first goal is to keep the slide stable and safe for the contractors who are working by the slide now. In the long-term, he said, they need to make sure it’s safe for the public, too.
“It’s going to go super fast once we finally get to the point where we say, ‘OK, there’s no more scraping and clawing,’ and it’s just a matter of getting this thing on its way and moving on with our lives,” he said. “That’s kind of the point I feel like we’re at as of yesterday.”
Now is typically the time summer visitors start pouring into the 100-resident seaside community.
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Mica Van Buskirk heads the Lowell Point Community Council and runs a boat yard there. She said there are about 40 or 50 businesses in Lowell Point, many dependent on tourists.
That’s true for Miller’s Landing, which has a campground and runs adventure tours in Lowell Point.
“There’s an economic impact for everybody here that does business,” said co-owner Chance Miller. “But as far as people’s day-to-day, I’d like to think it’s working out pretty good. The community’s always really come together, and this is another example of that.”
Miller’s Landing is doing a daily ferry service from Lowell Point to Seward and back. It’s the only way for Lowell Point residents to get out of the community at the moment, including for those who work in Seward. And it’s an impromptu solution to the problem. Miller’s business isn’t typically a ferry business — he just has vessels on-hand that he uses for tours that he’s been able to repurpose. Usually, the road is quick enough that taking a car or road taxi makes much more sense.
Miller said his company has put everything else on hold to shuttle about 2,500 people to date.
Now, the business is working with the state to give locals rides for free. Other travelers pay $30.90. The state also started providing a water taxi service Sunday through Aurora Charters.
Overall, Miller said, he thinks morale on his side of the slide is OK.
“I think people are pretty relaxed,” he said. “I feel like the locals definitely got used to commuting to work on a boat and back and getting to the store and back. There are minor inconveniences, but they’re very resilient people.”
Also, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is paying for vehicles to be transported from one side to the other, prioritizing Lowell Point residents. Monday was the final day it was moving cars and it expected to have transported 130 vehicles by the end of the day.
Ahlberg said the borough is also in communication with residents about preparing for any shortages in heating fuel or propane needs.
“Right now, everyone is fine, they’re set with those needs,” she said. “But we want to also project when it may be needed so we can get those resources out to them. Because it’s not just like we can turn around and make it happen.”
Separately, police arrested a Seward man for climbing the south side of the landslide near Lowell Point last week.
The Seward Police Department said it got a call from engineers on-site around 1:45 p.m. last Monday that a man was climbing past signs on the slide and refused to leave the site when asked. David Wilson, of Seward, was escorted off site and then arrested for criminal mischief in the 1st degree. Police said he was remanded to Seward City Jail.