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Wet weather wreaks havoc on roads

Wet weather has made it a rough ride on some Douglas County roads this year. First, a sinkhole opened up on County Road UU after a 72 inch and another smaller culvert failed, and the road washed out near Dutchman's Creek. "Those have both been re...

Cty Rd U
The road is still falling away after countless repairs and patch jobs on County Road U in Amnicon. Local officials are considering closing the road due to the unsafe conditions. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Wet weather has made it a rough ride on some Douglas County roads this year.

First, a sinkhole opened up on County Road UU after a 72 inch and another smaller culvert failed, and the road washed out near Dutchman's Creek.

"Those have both been replaced, and the road is open again," said Paul Halverson, Douglas County highway commissioner. While the county still needs to pave the section of road, Halverson said the road is open on gravel.

Then two weeks ago, the county closed County Highway U in Amnicon indefinitely. The county's highway committee could consider closing the road permanently because of red clay that routinely undermines a steep hill just north of the Amnicon River.

The county erected barricades on the closed section of the road.

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"It's due to the settlement or failure of a segment of the road there," the highway commissioner said. "It's an extreme safety concern the way it is. Basically, a portion of that hill is down to one lane. The other lane has dropped away, upwards to a foot lower than the adjacent lane."

It was that "significant" concern that prompted county officials to barricade the road and notify the public to use alternative routes.

"Long-term, we're going to be having the discussion about closing that hill for good and not maintain that section of road," Halverson said. "I've been in this job for 13 years. We've been probably six or seven years fixing that."

He said those major repairs don't include the annual maintenance that has to done without solving the problem -- the road's red-clay base.

Red clay in other areas of Douglas County has proven problematic because of a phenomenon known as "slumping," where the soil just sinks away and slides down the hillside. Graceland Cemetery in Superior and homes in Oliver have fallen victim to shifting and settling of red clay.

Halverson said he doubts the county would have the problems if the roadbed were in a sandy or a more gravel base.

With few county residents living in the area -- and those who do avoiding the hill because of the hazardous conditions, Halverson said the town of Amnicon and the county highway committee are likely to discuss closing the section of road permanently

The closure isn't expected to affect Amnicon Falls State Park on County Highway U because most people travel to the park on U.S. Highway 2 to the junction with County Highway U near the state park.

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"The hill there is so steep below the road and above the road the red clay is unstable and when its wet it moves and it slides," Halverson said. "Honestly, if you wanted me to tell you what the fix is, I couldn't tell you. I really don't know -- without spending a fortune out there -- what we would do to fix it."

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