It’s a long and winding trek through gravel and dirt roads on Forest Service and Seneca Jones timberlands.
Most of the way, the road is wide enough for just one vehicle. The view alternates between clear-cuts and forest stands. At times, the edge of the road is a sheer drop off. Orange detour signs mark a handful of points where the roads divide, marking the one correct path through the woods to the home where Karen and James Hazlett and Augie Grayfox live.
It’s likely to be their only route to and from town until Christmas.
Since a rock slide came tumbling down on Little River Road last week, this challenging route is the only path to and from Roseburg for residents of about nine homes on the other side of the slide. It adds an additional half hour drive time to what was already a 45-minute journey.
In the first full week of December, brief, occasional snow showers fell, but didn’t stick to the road, and the temperature dipped to 34 degrees as a News-Review reporter and photographer made their way to the Hazlett and Grayfox home. Add snow, or heavy rains — both possible in East County this time of year — and the route could get treacherous.
Karen Hazlett is worried about what this detour means for her and her family. Already fairly isolated, she now feels virtually cut off from the source of any services she might need until Little River Road reopens. What if it snows, and she can’t make the trip into town for food, she wondered during an interview. What if her husband, a veteran who’s in poor health, needs an ambulance?
“I will hold someone responsible if anything happens to my family or someone in my community,” she said. “I am not comfortable with the position they have put us in.”
Josh Heacock, manager of the engineering and construction division of Douglas County Public Works, said first responders will be allowed to use Little River Road for any medical emergencies involving James Hazlett or one of his neighbors. While it’s not safe for 24-hour-a-day unsupervised traffic, he said public works crews and ambulances will be able to make it through.
That’s not all that’s bothering Hazlett, though. She’s angry that the county gave her and her neighbors just four hours notice on Friday that it was closing the road and putting the detour in place. She’s also frustrated because this isn’t the first slide in the area, and she thinks the county should have corrected the problem long ago.
“This is not something that just happened,” she said.
Little River Road’s had just one lane open to traffic since a landslide five years ago brought huge boulders crashing down onto the roadway. Those boulders were pushed to one side of the road, partly to act as a barrier to smaller slides. This landslide was made up of smaller rocks, but has been coming down in a much steadier stream, Heacock said.
Hazlett hasn’t tried the detour, but Grayfox, a family friend who lives with the Hazletts, has. He found it challenging, even in his four-wheel drive pickup. He said he thinks the county should have addressed the problem on Little River right away after the first rock slide.
“How desperate do we have to get before they do something?” he asked.
Heacock said he understands it’s frustrating for the affected homeowners, but he said the county gave them short notice after the recent landslide because it needed to act quickly for safety’s sake.
As for the length of time it’s taken to address the longer-term problem of sliding in the area, he said the county didn’t have the money to fix it until 2015, when it obtained a federal grant to pay for the design and construction of a solution to the problem. A preliminary design has already been completed, with a projected construction date in 2018.
Cleaning up the more recent slide should be quicker, but will require testing for safety of the crews before clearing away the debris, Heacock said.
“Best case scenario if we don’t uncover anything new up there, if we don’t see any major issues, the work could be completed within two to three weeks,” Heacock said.
“Our biggest priority is public safety. The traveling public is our number one priority, and so we’re always going to make sure we err on the side of caution,” he said. “We realized with the amount of movement that’s up there, we had to shut it down in the interim to address this immediate concern, and this next fiscal year we’ll continue with the final fix.”