A busted oil pan on his 2002 Pontiac Grand Am recently got Jack Berry thinking about the landslide danger on Marine View Drive in Tacoma.
Berry lives on 54th Avenue East not far from state Route 509, and he frequently drives the stretch of Marine View between his house and Browns Point.
The retired millwright said it’s not unusual to see rocks and other debris littering the pavement along the route. One such rock took out the oil pan on Berry’s Grand Am last month near the abandoned marina on the Hylebos Waterway.
Repairs cost him $600.
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“It came down from the side of the hill, a pretty good-sized rock,” Berry, 57, told The News Tribune. “There always seems to be rocks in the road. Seems to me like it is starting to get worse.”
He’s not wrong.
Last year saw the largest number of landslides along Marine View Drive since 2010, according to figures reported by the city of Tacoma.
The seven slides in 2016 were more than double the number reported in 2014 and 2015 combined, the figures show. Many of the slides were small, but one in late October blocked traffic for nearly 24 hours.
With the increase in slides comes an increase in cost for cleaning them up.
The city spent about $13,145 clearing mud, rocks and trees from Marine View Drive in 2015, when only two slides were reported. It spent more than $44,500 cleaning mudslides last year.
The more money the city spends clearing landslides, the less it has for other street maintenance, including pothole repair, said Rae Bailey, street-operations manager for the Public Works Department.
“They force me to divert crews and resources to cleanup so we can keep the road open,” Bailey said.
Marine View Drive always has been prone to slides. City officials have recorded 29 there since 2010.
The road, which skirts the eastern shore of Commencement Bay before climbing up toward Northeast Tacoma, is bordered on the east by a steep hillside.
That hillside is composed mainly of loosely packed soil riddled with rock and clay. While trees and brush cover much of it, many spots are exposed to the elements.
Add water and slides are likely, Bailey said.
In February 1996, heavy winter rains triggered more than a dozen slides that destroyed at least two houses and blocked Marine View Drive for days.
Bailey attributes the 2016 uptick to especially wet weather in the late winter and throughout the fall.
The 2015-16 winter was the wettest ever recorded in Seattle, according to the National Weather Service, and last October was one of the wettest on record.
What’s more, natural springs are interspersed throughout the area, and many trickle water year-round.
“There’s not much I can do about either one of them, to be honest with you,” Bailey said of the rains and springs.
Some people who own houses on the hills above Marine View Drive might be contributing to the problem, Bailey added, by diverting rainwater from their roofs to the unstable slopes below instead of routing it to the street, where storm drains can carry it off.
He theorized that inappropriate brush clearing on the slopes above Marine View Drive also might be a factor.
“Code enforcement does not currently have any open cases on Marine View Drive for unauthorized tree clearing,” said Marie Lee, a city spokeswoman. “They also reviewed cases closed in 2015 and 2016, and it does not appear that we had a complaint regarding illicit tree removal for the area you’re interested in.”
Berry said he hopes the city does something to try to address the slides, such as covering exposed slopes with netting or sowing grass seed.
“We get a bad rain, and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “It just takes one rock to crash through someone’s windshield. It could end up bad.”