More than a month after water, mud and debris came gushing down the hill and over Squaw Creek Road, the earth is still sliding.
Park County officials said Tuesday that road and bridge crews remain stymied as rains have kept the Crandall area soggy.
“We can’t really do anything with this road … until it dries out and quits moving,” Park County Homeland Security Coordinator Mart Knapp told commissioners on Tuesday.
Squaw Creek Road, officially known as Road XUX, is currently impassable. Parts of the route have been washed away, other parts have been buried in mud and one portion has a cabin sitting on top of it. For the time being, residents with cabins beyond the slide area have been accessing their properties through a private road that cuts across a ranch.
The county plans to clear Road XUX and rebuild the road before winter arrives, allowing access for residents and county snowplows.
“Realistically, that’s the best goal we can hope for,” Park County Engineer Brian Edwards said, who describes the slide as “pretty massive.”
The county would like to get started on the road ASAP, but it’s dependent on the weather and when conditions become safe. Part of the unease about getting into the area is that removing or adding material could cause the slope to slide further, Edwards said. The hope is to “ride on top” of the slide by building a route that works like a snowshoe, spreading and distributing the weight of traffic, he said.
The county has tentatively set aside $250,000 for the temporary fixes — and there’s a risk that the work will be washed out.
“This very well could happen again this [next] spring, and then the following year,” Edwards warned. “This could be an ongoing problem.”
One cabin along Road XUX, owned by Charlie and Jamie Cooley of Cowley, was torn in two and carried down the hill by the slide late last month; another cabin, owned by Ardell Smith of Powell, has slid upwards of 90 feet, currently resting where the roadway used to be.
Beyond those two cabins destroyed by the mud and water, “there is the chance that it could take out some other homes,” Knapp said. He estimated that as many as 10 other cabins could potentially be at risk.
Commissioners quizzed representatives of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security on Tuesday as to what aid might be available from the state and federal government for the cabin owners — particularly because the damage from the mudslides to the cabins will not be covered by insurance. The answer from the state officials was, in short, that no financial help is available through homeland security or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State Hazard Mitigation Officer Melinda Gipson said that, even if a dozen cabins wind up being damaged by the mudslides, that would be well short of the roughly 100-home threshold that it takes to trigger “Individual Disaster Assistance” for private property owners through FEMA.
Plus, that program is for permanent residences and “summer cabins are not something that they will consider,” Gipson said.
The county, meanwhile, won’t be eligible for FEMA assistance unless the damage to the road or other public infrastructure tops $1 million, she indicated.
Park County officials, along with representatives from the Shoshone National Forest, plan to host a public meeting at the Chief Joseph RV Park at 6 p.m. Friday.
County Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf asked whether the State Office of Homeland Security could send a representative to answer area residents’ questions, but Deputy Director Larry Majerus said they likely would not attend, in part “to manage expectations.”
“If we show up at a meeting ... it often encourages people to believe that there is something that either the State Office of Homeland Security or Federal Emergency Management Agency will eventually participate in and that’s a false hope in this particular case that we don’t want to provide to people,” Majerus said. “I’m sure you don’t, either.”
Majerus said his office would work to provide information about organizations and programs that could help, such as the American Red Cross, the state engineer’s office, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, U.S. Geological Survey, Wyoming Department of Insurance and the federal Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program.
Regardless of the rain, county crews could potentially start doing some preliminary work on the fixes to the road next week — cutting down trees, installing culverts, etc. Ron Nieters, the foreman of the county road and bridge department’s Cody district, said that would show Road XUX residents “that we’re there.”