Bretwood “Hig” Higman, executive director of Ground Truth Trekking, talks Thursday at a news conference outside Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School about the risk of an eventual landslide in the Lemon Creek area. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Bretwood “Hig” Higman, executive director of Ground Truth Trekking, talks Thursday at a news conference outside Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School about the risk of an eventual landslide in the Lemon Creek area. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Group investigates possibility of landslides in Lemon Creek area

There’s not cause for immediate concern, just watchfulness and evaluation, officials say.

A group of city officials, scientists and members of partner organizations investigated signs of old and perhaps future landslides in the Lemon Creek area.

While the concern for landslides in Lemon Creek in the immediate future are low, said city emergency program manager Tom Mattice, it’s something the city will be evaluating and updating the public on.

Landslides are a large concern in the Southeast Alaska, where high rains and seismic activity can shift earth loose, sending landslides thundering into the valleys below.

A scientist researching landslides in Prince William Sound, Bretwood “Hig” Higman, found a number of overlooked signs that pointed toward the possibility of instability leading to landslides.

“One of the things that jumped out of us was a super obvious instability,” Higman said during a news conference after walking the area above Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School with other members of the working group. “It was a red flag that we need to do a little more looking around for the obvious.”

[Company holds cookout in Tenakee Springs for new aircraft]

The area on the Thunder Mountain/Heintzelman Ridge above Lemon Creek is one of about 20 areas in the state Higman has marked for further investigating.

“We found some obvious signs and we have some ways to track those and the rate of change. We’re going to start working with some professionals in the region to see what we can do. We’re just really fortunate to have university partners in this community,” Mattice said. “We didn’t really have a budget for this, but we have people who care. We’re going to start investing a little time and effort into understanding more.”

Tom Mattice, emergency program manager for City and Borough of Juneau, discusses observations that indicate there have been significant landslides in the Lemon Creek area in the past. Mattice said at this point, there is nothing to indicate that a catastrophic landslide is imminent, but there are visible cracks and deposits from past events that suggest one is possible. Mattice said researchers will continue to evaluate the area and update the public. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Tom Mattice, emergency program manager for City and Borough of Juneau, discusses observations that indicate there have been significant landslides in the Lemon Creek area in the past. Mattice said at this point, there is nothing to indicate that a catastrophic landslide is imminent, but there are visible cracks and deposits from past events that suggest one is possible. Mattice said researchers will continue to evaluate the area and update the public. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A number of deposits, none older than approximately 500 years or so, mark where other landslides in the past have spilled down the mountainside, Higman said, roughly dated by the exposure of the stone, the thinness of the soil and the age of the nearby trees.

“These (landslides) can be incredibly mobile,” Higman said. “But one thing that’s incredibly reassuring is these deposits are not like that. They stopped right here at the bottom of the slope.”

Several area residents attended the news conference.

“I think they were very straightforward,” said resident Larry Woodall, who added that the information provided was “a little bit reassuring.”

The city is currently beginning another landslide and avalanche study for the city, Mattice said.

“It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Mattice said. “But it’s important for people to recognize it’s a historical event, it does have modern day potential, and it’s something we’re keeping an eye on.”

Juneau residents walking the areas of Thunder Mountain can help, Higman and Mattice said, by looking for telltale signs that the mass of earth is moving.

“Part of the trick is you want to get up there when there’s no snow up there. You’re looking for potentially subtle changes,” Higman said. “Raw soil, tilted trees, roots stretched across cracks, sinkholes. We were looking for that today. We did not find it.”

Observations can be sent to Higman’s nonprofit, Ground Truth, though he noted he may be slow to respond due to field work.

The dangers of a landslide rolling down into Lemon Creek, if it happened, would be many, and options for preventing it, short of evacuating the entire area, would be few, Higman said.

“People say, ‘If we know it’s going to fall, let’s just go let it loose anyway,’” Higman said. “There’s not a way to do that, outside of the craziest sci-fi.”

In Southeast Alaska, steady rainfall is one of the biggest dangers for causing landslides, alongside the Ring of Fire’s tectonic instability.

“Those are top of your list for possible triggers,” Higman said. “Extreme rain and earthquakes.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024

For Thursday, Feb. 29 Assault At 5:49 p.m. on Thursday, a 17-year-old… Continue reading

The Alaska Supreme Court is seen on Thursday, Feb. 8, in Juneau. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Supreme Court decides key question: Who is an Alaskan?

An Alaskan is someone physically present in the state who intends to… Continue reading

Pink salmon are seen in an undated photo. (NOAA Fisheries photo)
New salmon study adds to evidence that pink salmon could be crowding out sockeye

A new analysis of nearly 25,000 fish scales offers more evidence that… Continue reading

Liana Wallace offers a water blessing during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool on Friday following nearly a year of renovations. The pool is scheduled to reopen for public use on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Ribbon-cutting for Augustus G. Brown Swimming Pool a blessing for longtime users after 11-month renovation

Infrastructure upgrades, new locker rooms and student tile art in lobby greet visitors at ceremony.

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau is seen on Friday, Feb. 23. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature plans March 12 vote on Gov. Dunleavy’s executive orders

Order giving governor full control of Alaska Marine Highway Operations board among six scheduled.

Brenda Josephson, a Haines resident, testifies in favor of a bill setting statewide standards for municipal property assessors during a state Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Statewide standards for municipal property assessments sought in bill by Juneau lawmaker

Some residents say legislation doesn’t go far enough, want limits on annual valuation increases.

The front page of the Juneau Empire on Feb. 26, 2004. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of March 2

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks Thursday, April 27, 2023, at a news conference in Juneau. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House considers constitutional guarantee for Permanent Fund dividend

The Alaska House of Representatives will vote as soon as Friday morning… Continue reading

Most Read