Sequim homes move uncomfortably close to Strait of Juan de Fuca

SEQUIM — When Roger Huntman heard the rumbling beneath his feet, he knew it was time to run.

Standing near the edge of a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Huntman got out of the way before a section of his lawn calved like a glacier.

“If I didn’t run approximately 40 feet, I would have gone down with it,” said Huntman, who lives in a subdivision northwest of Sequim.

Over the course of about three hours on the morning of Feb. 1, a 150-foot section of the bluff moved about 40 feet closer to a row of homes on 100 block of Cypress Circle.

Several trees, lawn ornaments, benches, plants and an erosion warning sign fell onto the beach below. No homes were lost or damaged.

“It looks like the worst is over, knock on wood,” Huntman said last week.

Clallam County Fire District No. 3 and the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office blocked off sections of the unstable bluff with yellow caution tape.

“County engineering said you need to get a geologist,” said Earl McDonald, who lives one house east of Roger and Virginia Huntman. “We were saying, ‘We need to move.’ ”

Leon Smith, Clallam County building official and fire marshal, said a geotechnical report of the slide area shows the slope has stabilized.

No homes are at risk of being condemned.

“They were concerned, but the report said there is no danger to homes at all,” Smith said.

More than anything, the landslide shook the nerves of residents in the tight-knit community and took a portion of their commons area.

“It has definitely shaken my sense of security out here,” McDonald said.

“Do I want to live here the rest of my life? When is next one going to happen? It kind of displaces the trivial stuff going on in my mind.”

When the slide began, McDonald grabbed his camera to snap some frames.

“Over the course of the next three hours, a little would go here, a little would go there,” he recalled. “It kind of danced back forth. At one point, a whole big section went to the west of me.”

Huntman had been standing on the large section that calved into the Strait.

“He was hamming it up,” McDonald said.

“A few frames later, where he standing, it wasn’t there anymore.”

“It was just the weirdest thing I have ever seen,” said Judy Rich, who lives to the west of the slide.

A temporary barrier has been set to the east and west of the slide area to keep neighbors from venturing too close to the unstable bluff.

Topsoil on two small portions jut out over the cliff with nothing to support it.

Dave Hanna, civil engineer with Northwestern Territories Inc. in Port Angeles, said the bluffs in that area are slowly eroding.

Bluffs erode all through the north Olympic Peninsula.

In January 2009, part of a bluff above Water Street in Port Townsend collapsed.

It was no cause for concern, the director of the city’s public works department said.

“Periodically, stuff like that happens,” Ken Clow said then.

The Sequim subdivision sees an average erosion of 3 to 6 inches per year. The erosion intensifies to about a foot per year near Dungeness.

“It goes in chunks,” Hanna said. “This happened to be a pretty big one.”

Last week’s landslide was considered to be in the 90th percentile for slides that happen along the bluffs, Hanna said.

“People are scared,” he said.

Hanna said it’s unlikely that another major slide will occur at the same location for “a long time.”

“Eventually all those houses are going to go into the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” said Ross Tyler, Clallam County engineer.

“In this particular case, this one area has probably not lost anything in 20 years, and all of a sudden 30 feet of it goes.”

County officials use aerial photographs taken in the 1970s to monitor erosion along the bluffs, which are made of a fine-grained, silty, glacial deposit that is softer than other soils in the region.

Wave action erodes the base of the bluffs and gravity does the rest, Tyler said.

“When anybody builds next to a cliff, you get a little concerned,” said Steve Vogel, chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 3.

Vogel recalled a similar slide that occurred about 20 years ago.

“A guy lost his back yard and it threatened the home,” he said.

Hanna speculated that a large chunk of silt gave way deep within the bluff, and the shock waves brought the down the whole section in three distinct waves.

Property lines extend 15 feet from the front of the homes.

Although it came close, the landslide did not reach Huntman’s or McDonald’s property line.

Trees in front of Huntman’s home have been cut down to prevent high winds from uprooting them and destabilizing the soil.

“It’s been a busy couple of weeks here,” McDonald said.

“It gets to be overwhelming. You can only do so much.”

Information from Peninsula Daily News, www.peninsuladailynews.com.

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