Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023 @ 4:31 p.m.

Post-Wildfire Work On 199 Expected To Continue Through The Summer, Caltrans Rep Says

Construction crews replace damaged guardrail on U.S. 199 following the Smith River Complex wildfires. | Photo courtesy of Caltrans District 1

Though Caltrans suspended three-hour closures on U.S. 199 about two weeks ago, post-wildfire work will likely continue through the summer, a department representative told Del Norte County supervisors Tuesday.

In the weeks since the Smith River Complex wildfires swept through the region, crews have replaced 30 signs, stabilized about 74,225 square feet of hillside and removed trees that posed a threat to motorists, according to Clayton Malmberg, area construction engineer for Caltrans District 1.

Caltrans also reconstructed 9,246 linear feet of guardrail, which is why the department felt comfortable allowing motorists into the area without an escort, he said.

“We didn’t want uncontrolled traffic to go through an area that didn’t have guardrail protection up,” Malmberg said. “The good news is all the guardrail has been replaced and has been replaced with steel posts so it’s a much more resilient system and hopefully we won’t have that same threat in the future, where the posts were able to burn up with the traditional timber posts.”

There are still about 40 culverts needing to be rehabilitate. Malmberg said the fire left many burned out or in various states of disrepair. Hazardous tree removal and slope stabilization must still be performed.

According to Malmberg, slope stabilization involves use of a helicopter to hang cable drapery netting in the Patrick Creek narrows area above Patrick Creek Lodge. His colleague, resident engineer Aaron Valley, said Caltrans is using climbers from a specialized subcontractor from Yreka to access the steep terrain in that area.

“We’re installing an elevated cable net drapery system,” Valley said. “The goal is to capture any loose rock material and get it down to the roadway shoulder without having any major trajectories that are going to impact the traveling public going through there.”

While he couldn’t be more specific, Malmberg said the slope stabilization work will likely be finished next summer. The department doesn’t want to continue that work during the winter.

As for the hazardous trees, Valley said these are trees that were left in unstable soil conditions after the fire swept through the area and have had their roots burned out. Caltrans is working with Ukiah-based North Coast Resource Management to identify the hazardous trees and remove them, Valley said.

That material has been stockpiled alongside the highway, Malmberg said. Since the U.S. Forest Service is the owner, they’re managing the disposal of those trees, he said.

The Six Rivers National Forest is selling an estimated 285,080 board feet of timber that has been salvaged from the Smith River Complex. That material is designated for removal from the area before Nov. 30, according to a preliminary advertisement.

According to Kristin Coons, supervisory forester for the Gasquet Ranger District, the agency is still calculating the net volume of timber that will be available for sale as a result of the wildfires. The estimated volume of 285,080 board feet may be a third of the value as a result of the wildfires, she told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Wednesday.

That deck sale will only include the material from along the side of U.S. 199, Coons told the Outpost.

Coons said the agency hopes to remove those timber stockpiles from the side of the highway as soon as possible for public safety.

On Tuesday, Malmberg said roughly 60 percent of all the trees deemed hazardous as a result of the wildfire have been removed so far.

Meanwhile, though Caltrans is no longer closing U.S. 199 for three hours at a time, further closures may be needed for the slope stabilization work, especially if helicopters are necessary, Malmberg said. Currently the road is being closed for up to one hour, though it’s often less than that, he said.

One-way traffic control through U.S. 199 north of Gasquet to the Oregon border is in place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. The road is open to two-way traffic on the weekends, though if weekend closures are necessary Caltrans will inform the public in advance on its Facebook page.


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