GLIDE — Three members of a five-man crew felled trees perched precariously close to the edge of an unstable hillside above Little River Road Wednesday.
It’s a section of roadway that has repeatedly been blocked by rock slides over the past seven years.
On Wednesday, the crew was clearing vegetation in preparation for a construction project the county hopes will be a permanent fix for the problem.
It’s a project that’s long been in the works, but the almost $5.2 million price tag was more than Douglas County could afford until it was awarded a Federal Lands Access Program grant that will pay $4.6 million of the cost.
Little River Road branches off Highway 138 East just west of Glide and winds its way along Little River, which looks more and more like a creek the further upstream motorists followed it on a dry day in August.
The road passes Peel Country Store and Wolf Creek Job Corps. Eventually, it reaches popular campgrounds and waterfall hikes in the Umpqua National Forest.
Just past milepost 24, the road narrows to a single lane where rock sprawls across one lane of the road. The hill there will soon receive a facelift that includes inserting metal bolts into the rock and stretching a heavy metal mesh across it.
The green rock on the hillside has repeatedly broken off and periodically sent chunks down onto the roadway. It’s basically sandstone layered with green, volcanic rock called vitric lapilli tuff. It’s not the hardest of rocks, said Douglas County Public Works Director Scott Adams.
“The rock, once it gets weathered on a little bit, it cracks in formations. Water and freezing and different temperatures and stuff then separate it, and it starts deteriorating and falling off,” Adams said.
In 2012, the rock on the hillside started moving.
“This rock cut has been here since the road was established, and it’s had little pop-outs here and there, but it really came down, a large component of it, in 2012 and blocked the road,” Adams said. “We kinda came in and got it to one lane, and we’ve been fighting it ever since.”
The road was completely blocked for a while after the 2012 slide, and again following a subsequent slide November 2017.
The county first applied in 2015 for a federal grant to fix the problem. The grant program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration, and the money is awarded to projects on roads that provide access to federal lands.
The grant was approved in 2016, and from 2017 until this spring, the county has worked with the federal government to finalize the design.
Adams said the county put in a rock catchment system to improve safety while the design for the permanent fix was underway.
“Being able to keep a safe corridor through here, and being able to alleviate our maintenance crews to be able to work on other stuff is just really important. You want motorists to be able to drive through without having to look up,” he said.
Glide-based Triptych Construction, which specializes in rockfall mitigation, is the contractor for the project.
Triptych Site Superintendent Sam Richardson said the project starts with clearing trees and loose brush that’s in the way.
The next step, Richardson said, will be scaling to remove any loose material or rock past the falling edge. This part of the project includes the use of airbags, which he described as “pretty much a giant pillow that deflates and inflates.”
These are inserted into cracks and used to break up unwanted rock.
The pressure forces it to fall off the hill in a controlled manner, rather than in an unexpected and dangerous slide later.
After that, the rock will be bolted to the hillside using pneumatic air drills to create holes into which lengths of steel will be inserted, Richardson said.
The bolting stabilizes the hill by transferring the load from the unstable exterior to the stable and stronger interior of the rock mass, explained Douglas County Public Works Engineering Division Manager Josh Heacock.
Drain holes will also be drilled to help cut back on wintertime erosion. Then a mesh that looks like chain link fencing but is a lot stronger will be stretched out across any section that has loose material, Richardson said.
At the largest chute down which rocks have been sliding, the fence will be angled out from the hill to catch more sliding material.
Adams hopes the project will be completed by the end of the year.
While the work is underway, there will be flaggers during the daytime and traffic lights in the evening. Adams urged drivers to use caution traveling through the area. With a blind corner and no space to pass, ignoring the signal would be very dangerous, Adams said.
Though delays up to 30 minutes are possible, all recreation sites east of the slide area will remain open.
After a member of the staff at the Boys & Girls Club of the Umpqua Valley was arrested on Aug. 2, officials at the club say they took immediate action by terminating the staff member and banning him from any club programs or facilities.
Kyle Humphrey, 30, of Days Creek was contacted at the club and arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a minor, but officials said none of Humphrey’s victims were current members of the club.
“He didn’t interact in the program areas of the club very often, if at all,” said Bryan Lake, CEO of the club. “When he was here, there were also one or two staff members with him so I don’t feel like he was ever in a situation where he could have put someone in harm’s way.”
Humphrey was a summer sports camp assistant at the club and had been hired in July for the summer to help with the camps. The only other contact Humphrey had with the club was when he did some site supervising for sporting events where he would go to a site and set up for the event and monitor the event.
Lake said all employees and volunteers at the club must undergo a thorough criminal background check and all supervisory policies are designed to ensure the maximum safety and protection of club members and staff.
“The question has been coming up, ‘Did he have a background check,’ and yes he did, he cleared it,” Lake said. “We have a policy that every year we check the background of our staff and volunteers and our board.”
Club officials have already reviewed the background check process to see if there were any changes that needed to be made, Lake said.
Lake said investigators don’t feel any of the alleged sex abuse occurred at the club or during the club’s activities and did not involve any current club members. He said detectives from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office came into the club on Aug. 2 and arrested Humphrey, and on that Monday club officials were handing out letters and emailing parents to let them know what was going on.
Lake said the organization is committed to the highest standards of ethical behavior and integrity and does not tolerate inappropriate or illegal activity on the part of any staff member, volunteer or youth member.
The club, he said, will continue vigorous staff training and reviewing all of its policies to make sure there are not any gaps.
“We take this responsibility very seriously and I think it’s a sacred duty working with kids, and we cannot violate that trust,” Lake said.
Humphrey is being held in the Douglas County Jail. A plea hearing is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 21 in Judge Frances Burge’s Douglas County Circuit Courtroom.
Alek Skarlatos announced Thursday he plans to run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.
Skarlatos cited federal timber policy as his top reason for running. He said attempts to protect the environment by reducing logging have backfired, creating forest fires that pour carbon into the atmosphere.
“Peter DeFazio took office I believe in 1987, and over his tenure he’s pretty much overseen the downfall of the entire timber industry, has done nothing about it, and the economy and the environment are worse off because of it,” Skarlatos said.
Skarlatos will first have to face longtime candidate Art Robinson in the Republican primary. Robinson is on his sixth run for the office. He has consistently won Douglas County but lost the district, which skews to the left because it includes Lane County.
Robinson is more conservative, whereas Skarlatos is more of a libertarian, Skarlatos said. He cited marijuana laws as an example.
“I’m not against marijuana. I’m not necessarily for it either, but I believe that people should be able to make that choice on their own,” he said.
He said Robinson isn’t bringing anything new to the table.
“I just think he’s a little bit too extreme for my taste. That being said, I do agree with him on a lot of issues, and it’s just trying to appeal to the voters. Honestly, I just don’t think anybody’s really given him a run for his money in a long, long time,” he said.
This is not Skarlatos’ first run for office. In 2018, he ran unsuccessfully for Douglas County commissioner. In that race he garnered 35% of the vote, coming in second place to Tom Kress, who won the seat with 38% of the vote.
Skarlatos is perhaps best known for his role in thwarting a terrorist attempt on a Paris-bound train in 2015.
Skarlatos and two of his friends took action after a gunman armed with an AK-47, a handgun and a box cutter emerged from a train bathroom, then fired shots on the train, which was headed to Paris from Amsterdam.
Since then, Skarlatos has received multiple medals, been awarded the French Legion of Honor and taken third place on the ABC program “Dancing with the Stars.” He played himself in a Clint Eastwood movie about the train incident called “The 15:17 to Paris.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, his experience on that train, Skarlatos is a staunch supporter of gun rights. He noted that despite tough gun control in Europe, the would-be terrorist was able to arm himself with an AK-47 and a handgun.
“Terrorists still blow people up, they run people over with trucks, they stab people. Evil’s evil, and banning an inanimate object isn’t going to change any of that,” he said.
On immigration, Skarlatos believes in closing the border.
“I mean we can’t have people coming to this country that we don’t know who they are or where they’re coming from,” he said.
On health care, he’s opposed to socialized medicine of any kind. He said safety nets are needed, but he believes those are already in place.
On climate change, he said he doesn’t know if climate change is man-made, but returned to the timber issue, saying forest fires dumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere is worse than logging.
“I don’t care if you’re a tree-hugging hippie or you’re a log-everything timber industry magnate. We need more responsible forest management and both sides need to compromise and take a serious look at this issue and how to solve it,” he said.
Skarlatos is a Roseburg High School graduate and a former Roseburg Costco employee. He spent five years as an Oregon Army National Guardsman with Charlie Company.