The Cape Meares Loop Road is sliding – again. And Tillamook County is going to close part of it through the winter.
Much of the hillside between the Memaloose turnaround and the Cape Meares lighthouse has been moving for decades, county public works director Liane Welch said, but lately the rate of movement has become “dramatic.” Worst of the slippage has been along a new stretch of the road Tillamook County built just four years ago, bypassing a section of Cape Meares Loop Road that was dramatically sliding back then.
County public works has been spending two to three days a week fixing the road to keep it open, Welch said. “I’m standing on this hill tearing up hundred-dollar bills,” she said.
Welch came to the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners Wednesday morning, Jan. 9, to ask for a closure of the slipping part of the road. “This is not a small slide,” Welch told commissioners. “This thing is large. And it’s heavily forested up there.” The Oceanside Water District is seeing movement around their water tank, located higher up the hill, she said.
Welch asked for the road to be closed until spring; public works would monitor the slippage through the winter. “My recommendation is we close it prior to this weekend,” Welch said. “The rain has just added to the slippage.” Commissioners Labhart and Baertlein agreed (commissioner Josi was out of town), authorizing Welch to close the road Friday.
“We have done this before,” Labhart noted. At the Highway 131 end, Cape Meares Loop Road would be closed just uphill from several Stimson forest roads, allowing vehicles to turn around at those intersections; signs at the Memaloose turnaround at the bottom of the hill would warn large vehicles like RVs to turn around there. On the uphill side, the road from Oceanside would be closed at the Cape Meares Lighthouse parking lot, and vehicles (including large ones) would turn around there.
“Netarts, Oceanside and the state park will all be open,” Labhart said. Trucks hauling gravel for S-C Paving from the “Lighthouse Pit” on Cape Meares Rd. would have to go through Oceanside, instead of driving Cape Meares Rd. to Highway 131. Labhart noted the closure isolates Cape Meares from emergency services in Tillamook, but “we have an agreement with Stimson (Lumber) for use of forest roads over Cape Meares” for emergency vehicle access, he said.
Welch told commissioners she would get announcements of the closure in the Headlight Herald and on radio, prepare and post signs, organize a public meeting, and personally contact community leaders in Netarts, Oceanside and Cape Meares to spread the word. (The public meeting will be in Tillamook, Thursday Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at the main county library.) Based on the county’s experience last time, “people still have trouble understanding what ‘Road Closed’ means,” she said.
(County emergency manager Gordon McCraw advised Jan. 10 that the County Surveyor will be monitoring the movement. “An Oregon Department of Forestry Geologist has made observations of the area to help them assess the situation,” McCraw said.)
Labhart suggested a declaration of emergency might help release state and Federal money to help. “I’ve already called OEM (the state Office of Emergency Management),” county emergency manager Gordon McCraw told commissioners. The declaration would free up frunds from the state Department of Transportation (ODOT), he suggested.
The commissioners accordingly also declared the situation to be an emergency. “We’ll sign the declaration of emergency as soon as it’s prepared,” Labhart said.