With rains over, landslide site shoring nears completion


Stopgap measures to protect the Mount Soledad landslide area from further slippage caused by recent winter rains appear to have been successful, and the first phase of construction to shore up the disaster area is nearing completion.

Relief efforts were heightened - and quickened - by the City Council last week, which approved spending $20 million in emergency repairs for the landslide project. The lion’s share of that funding, $15 million, will go to general contractor Hazard Construction to hasten its construction efforts.

“The real goal is to stabilize the landslide,” said Carole Drummond, a city public information officer. “We haven’t done that yet.”

Drummond added that last week’s rains had no observable impact on the landslide area. “The rain contingency plan we have is pretty hardcore,” she said.

As of Dec. 7, Drummond said 31 of 37 huge shear pins being driven into bedrock at the landslide site to anchor it were in place. “As soon as it dries out we’ll put the final pins in,” she said, “then we can start removing the homes that have been red-tagged. As soon as those shear pins are in, we can move forward with the demolition process.”

City geologist Rob Hawk said there was a dire need for emergency funding because inclement weather is the random variable that could disrupt reconstruction plans on Mt. Soledad. “We knew adding rain was bad,” said Hawk, “which is why we asked for emergency funds. Rain adds weight, adds hydraulic pressure to the driving force of the site - gravity. We’ll be monitoring (the site) during the rains. If there’s a problem, we’ll have emergency personnel standing by for any evacuation if there’s any threat to safety.”

Hawk said it is likely to take several weeks to do the work necessary to ensure the landslide area is stabilized. He said the site must also be “winterized,” have engineering devices in place to divert water away from the landslide area. “Winterization is basically to keep it from failing more until some permanent solution is arrived at,” he said. “We have to keep water from getting down into it. Once we have the slope temporarily stabilized, we’ll be able to control the drainage much better.”

Once landslide stabilization and winterization efforts are complete, likely the end of December or early January, then the three red-tagged homes on the site which have been condemned by the city will be torn down by heavy equipment - as long as asbestos issues with them have been abated. “The slope there is very steep right now,” said Hawk. “We’ll have to remove about 20,000 yards of dirt. That’s going to take another several weeks. Then we’ll start on the grading.”

Ben Foroozan, owner of a fourth home in the Mt. Soledad landslide area that was originally tagged for demolition, said his home was seriously damaged, and he is not presently living in it, but the arguments he presented recently to the City Council asking to save it were apparently convincing.

“My house is not going to be razed,” said Foroozan. “We have submitted expert testimony on why it does not need to be razed and they (the city) have accepted that, it’s on the record.”

Hawk said work has already begun unearthing water lines in the disaster area, which are to be removed. “Once all the consultants have looked at it, we’ll move off to a location where it can be examined,” he said.

Rebuilding Soledad Mountain Road, which was undermined by the landslide and collapsed at the 5600 block, will be a top priority of the city. “But our first priority is safety,” said Hawk, noting there was a slight movement in the landslide area, a tenth of an inch, when the rains first began, which was disconcerting. “The fact that it moved was significant,” noted Hawk. “We’d like it not to move.”

By contrast, the earth moved several feet during the Oct. 3 landslide event damaging several homes, fouling utility lines and causing the emergency evacuation of 111 residents in the area.

David Jarrell, interim deputy chief of Public Works for the city, said there is a three-phase plan to reconfigure the slope in the Mt. Soledad disaster area and reconstruct Soledad Mountain Road.

“The first phase is to stabilize the area above the landslide with the shear pins, which is almost done,” Jarrell said. “Then we need to come in and do some emergency stabilization on the slope. That will involve demolition of three houses, removing about 20,000 cubic yards of dirt and grading to create a much more general slope between Soledad Mountain Road and Desert View down below. The third phase actually will be to restore the road. That will start after the slope stabilization work is complete. Then we’ll move immediately into that next phase. That may include the installation of some added shear pins on the east side of Soledad Mountain Road.”

As for resurrecting Soledad Mountain Road, Jarrell said the city has been told by both the federal Highway Administration and the state Office of Emergency Services, that most of the costs of reconstructing the road will be covered. “Probably upwards of 98 percent,” said Jarrell. “We’ll get invoices from the contractors, and we’ll submit those to the state and federal agencies and they’ll reimburse us.”

Jarrell said the $20 million the City Council just approved for emergency repairs on Mt. Soledad will include all consultant costs, both for engineering design work and forensic studies to determine how and why the landslide occurred.

“The best case would be April or May of 2008,” for the reconstruction of Soledad Mountain Road Jarrell said. “But it’s probably more realistic to think it will be June or July.”

Reconstructing Soledad Mountain Road is likely to take three to five months starting in January or February 2008. Heavy winter rains, however, could alter road reconstruction expectations. “We’ve got a lot of stormwater diversion features up there to keep water from running into the landslide area,” pointed out Jarrell. “But we can’t do much about the rain that falls directly on it.”