Minturn landslide eyed for disaster potential

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An ancient landslide on Meadow Mountain damaging U.S. Highway 6 near Minturn. Ann Capela, Minturn Town manager, is concerned a large landslide might back up the Eagle River and flood Minturn.
Preston Utley/Vail Daily


J.K. Perry
June 20, 2006

MINTURN - Meadow Mountain slowly creeps from the west toward the Eagle River, buckling the asphalt of U.S. Highway 6 and belching dirt onto the road.

There's a landslide here prone to moving, as geologists and other experts found in a 1986 study. The study - performed by the Colorado Geological Survey and other agencies - laid out landslide scenarios from small movements to a disaster. Ways to control the slide were recommended, some of which were implemented.

The entire Meadow Mountain Slide, as it's called, is made up of three landslides. The smallest continually cracks the highway each spring during runoff. An intermediate slide and a large, more stable slide, also comprise the larger slide area.

The possibility of a large slide worries Minturn Town Manager Ann Capela.

"If in fact the worst-case scenario that they looked at in that study - if there was a significant enough slide that dropped into the river and blocked the flow of the water in the river - it would take perhaps an hour, maybe two and most of the town of Minturn would be flooded," Capela said.

Capela compares a potential slide at Meadow Mountain to the Thistle, Utah landslide of 1983. The slide cost $200 million to repair and destroyed railroad tracks, the adjacent highway and formed a dam in a nearby river, which completely flooded the town of Thistle, according to the United States Geological Survey.

"Do we look at it and say 'Let it happen' or should we be proactive?" Capela said.

Capela went to the Colorado Department of Transportation seeking money to monitor the slide for movement, but she was turned away.


Map shows landslides in the Minturn area.

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"We're not asking for a fix tomorrow, but so we can further test and see what the situation might be," Capela said.

Transportation officials know about the landslide, but aren't as concerned.

"We haven't seen anything that this is going to get out of hand," said Ed Fink, Region 3 director for CDOT.

Still, Fink said he hopes to have experts study the area for movement so older studies of the slide can be updated.

"We're working with Ann (Capela), and hopefully Eagle County and others, to see if we can pool some resources together to see if we can do something about this," Fink said.

The transportation department deals with several other landslides across the state, all on a limited budget.

"We have a lot of these," Fink said. "We try to be responsive to the ones that present a big problem."

In the meantime, Capela's next move is to ask Eagle County for assistance.

Disaster, or not?
Following the 1986 study, water coursing through the slide was diverted around the site to the Eagle River. Water softens earth, increasing the possibility of a landslide. A rock buttress was also constructed at the base of the slide to stabilize it.

A large slide is capable of crossing the Eagle River and backing up water, said Pat Rogers, a retired engineering geologist for the Colorado Geological Survey. The slide might occur after several years of above-average precipitation or if the water already diverted away from the site made its way back into the landslide, Rogers said.

But the odds of a large slide occurring are slim, he said.

"That is a possibility, but that doesn't seem - from the information I had - really likely," Rogers said, adding the mountain still needs to be monitored for movement.

"It's a concern, one that should be watched, but it isn't as critical as the Dowd (landslide) in my opinion," Rogers said.

Area landslides
Meadow Mountain is part of a larger complex of four landslides in the area. Two slides sit at Dowd Junction - called Dowds Nos. 1 and 2 - and one just west of the junction dubbed the Whiskey Creek Slide.

A Dowd slide closed Interstate 70 in 1984 after two years of heavy snowfall saturated the earth and soil moved onto the highway.

The Whiskey Creek Slide brought mud to the Eagle River between 20,000 and 24,000 years ago, geologists estimate. River Run sits on the toe of the slide.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or

Vail, Colorado