The road connecting Lowell Point to Seward is set to reopen Friday, nearly three weeks after a large landslide severed travel between the two communities.
The May 7 slide that tumbled down Bear Mountain and onto the narrow road along Resurrection Bay was estimated at 200-feet high and 300-feet wide, cutting off access for 200 or more Lowell Point residents, workers and visitors to campgrounds and rental homes in the area.
Crews from Metco and Alaska Blasting Services started work to clear the debris about three days after the landslide. Water taxis ferried people to the Seward harbor and a barge moved dozens of vehicles over.
Now the road will reopen at noon this Friday, the City of Seward and Kenai Peninsula Borough announced this week. It will stay open through the weekend until next Tuesday at 8 a.m., when there will be intermittent closures from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Thursday, June 2, so that more blasting work can be done.
“We can open safely and we feel confident about that,” said Janette Bower, Seward’s city manager.
Bower urged people to use caution when driving the road because the chance for additional slides still exists. She also said motorists should not stop on the road, and discouraged bicyclists or pedestrians from using the road.
According to the announcement, drivers should expect a slight rise in the road when passing by the debris pile from the slide. There are large boulders on the sea side of the road as well as barriers on the mountain side, “to mitigate any safety issues,” the update said. Drivers should also be aware of a large ditch below the landslide area that should catch any additional debris.
Monday marked the last day people were able to move their vehicles from Lowell Point to Seward with a barge service provided through the Harris Sand and Gravel company and coordinated by the city, the borough and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The barge ferried a total of 126 vehicles over to Seward, according to Brenda Ahlberg, emergency manager for the borough.
A mix of residents, visitors and people working in Lowell Point at the time of the slide needed their vehicles and equipment on the other side, Ahlberg said. The borough is covering the cost to move those vehicles and will be reimbursed through a disaster declaration that was made for the emergency.
Residents who still needed to get back and forth between the two communities during the road closure have been ferried by a local water taxi, camping and sea kayaking business, Miller’s Landing. A second company, Aurora Charters, later came on board to offer trips through a contract with the state transportation department, Ahlberg said.
According to an estimate provided to the borough by Miller’s Landing, water taxis provided more than 3,200 passenger rides between Lowell Point and Seward through Sunday, she said.
Water taxi services were provided for free to those who live or work in Lowell Point. Those services will end when the road reopens, but will be offered again during the intermittent road closures next week. Visitor and tourism travel is not eligible for free water taxi service.
Bower said the city, borough and state agencies immediately worked as a team after the landslide.
She said being able to reopen the road for Memorial Day weekend will help, especially for people in Lowell Point who are used to holding celebrations, and for those who like to go enjoy the area during the holiday.
Bower said the city hopes to reopen the road permanently after the intermittent closures next week.
For Ahlberg, the event turned into an opportunity to celebrate “our resiliency as Alaskans” and a reminder of the importance of being prepared for emergencies.
“As soon as that happened, what everyone did was come together,” she said.