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Preparatory Work for Reconstruction of Landslide Site in Avery Begins – Start Date, Completion Date Unknown

By Jesse Wood

July 25, 2013. While local families cope with the harrowing experience of losing their homes and possessions during the middle-of-the-night landslide in Avery County, N.C. Department of Transportation officials are still laying the preparatory groundwork to begin the reconstruction of N.C. 194.

The NCDOT is in the process of preparing a contract for potential contractors, many of which have visited the site already, to bid on the project, according to NCDOT spokesman Jerry Higgins. He added that while he couldn’t give a start date for the project, he said the contract comes with the understanding that crews are to begin work as soon as it is approved.

Photo Courtesy of Glory 1130 AM WECR

“Geo-tech” engineers recently examined the area to see if any streams and what type of soil and rock structures are below the road.

“We have not received those results [yet], but that will go a long way in determining the work that has to be done,” Higgins said.

He said the project would take at least three months to complete – “if conditions are perfect.” By the time late October and November comes around, then contractors will have to deal with cool temperatures, which will not be warm enough to lay permanent asphalt.

Plus, the concern exists that more slides could occur if heavy rainfall persists. The High Country – along with the rest of Western North Carolina – has experienced record precipitation this year with many areas receiving between 40 and 60 inches of rainfall during the first half of the year.

Higgins said that Avery County Maintenance Engineer Jerry Combs, referring to the mudslide, “thought, as of the other day, it looked pretty much like what’s going to fall has fallen.”

Recent calls to Combs were not returned.

When work does begin on the roadway, Higgins said that crews will have to start at the bottom and work their way to the top. He said temporary dirt roads will have to be built for heavy equipment and dump trucks to haul away the 17-foot pile of rubble – mud, trees, concrete – that exists at the bottom of the slide.

Two weeks ago, the NCDOT reported that the landslide was 200-foot long and about 150- to 250-feet deep off of N.C. 194 in between Elk Park and Newland. 

Photo Courtesy of Glory 1130 AM WECR

“You can describe it all you want,” Higgins, who recently visited the scene of the slide, said. “But until you see it in person … oh wow.” 

During the slide, homes were buried while families scrambled for their lives.

WBTV interviewed Robby Bailey in the aftermath of the mudslide. Along with is wife and daughter, Bailey said, “We heard something that sounded like a transfer truck coming down the hill.”

While the house was shaking and rocks and mud tumbled by, the family had to run and crawl out of the house to escape the calamity.  While any injuries were minor, the loss of their home and possessions was huge. Community members have since held fundraising events to support the Bailey and Thompson families. 

For now – and what looks like a considerable time – detours have been set up for northbound and southbound traffic, something that transportation staff with Avery County Schools is currently addressing because the detour sign for Blevins Creek Road states no buses or trucks allowed.

Avery County Schools is currently laying out bus routes for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 19. ACS Transportation Director Brian King said that he is awaiting word from the N.C. Department of Transportation and the State Highway Patrol to see if six of his buses will receive the go ahead to use the detour.

He said that if those buses aren’t allowed to use Blevins Creek Road, then some buses – such as those with a destination of the high school in Newland – would drive an extra 30 minutes to and through Banner Elk and back into Newland. He said the Blevins Creek Road detour would only add five minutes of driving time.

“We hope to know something by the end of the week,” King said.