While people the world over are considering ways to keep themselves and others safe through isolation, a small community in Kingston rolled up their sleeves to keep themselves and others safe by repairing a crucial connection to the outside world.
Washington Boulevard is a narrow, unpaved, private road that provides the only means of access for more than two-dozen homes. In early February heavy rain and wind saw a number of trees toppled along the roadway which traverses a steep bluff, flanked to the east by the Puget Sound. After the debris had been cleared from the roadway, an inspection by North Kitsap Fire & Rescue revealed that the road was unstable and likely could not bear the weight of emergency apparatus like ambulances and fire engines.
A community meeting was called on Feb. 13 at the district’s headquarters near Kingston to inform the residents of Washington Boulevard that in the event of an emergency, they would be cut off from responders.
“[This is] not something that we take lightly,” began NKF&R Assistant Fire Chief Rick LaGrandeur at the meeting. “This goes counter to everything that we’re supposed to do. It doesn’t feel right to look at a road and say ‘nope, we’re not going to go down there.’”
Not a new problem
Washington Boulevard is no stranger to erosion, in fact the roadway is renowned for its instability and following a significant slide in 2006, Kitsap County Public Works began monitoring the progression of an active landslide that could threaten to completely sever any connection between the residents along Washington Boulevard and the rest of Kingston. At a meeting in April 2018, county officials stated their intent to construct a de-watering system that they say will target the main driver of the hillside’s sloughing — precipitation.
“In essence, there’s only a certain number of ways to stabilize a landslide and they all come down to basically two things: can you reduce what we call the driving forces on the landslide? Those are the forces pushing soil down the hill; or can you increase the resisting forces? Which are the forces holding the soil up the hill,” said Andy Holmson, a geotechnical engineer with Aspect Consulting at a community meeting in 2018. “Dewatering is a concept that tries to take groundwater levels within the landslide and lower them.”
With construction estimated to start in Late summer 2021, the neighbors on Washington Boulevard were left to resolve the matter themselves. Only days after the meeting at NKF&R headquarters, residents of Washington Boulevard gathered at the Pizza Factory in Kingston to discuss how to share the financial burden in order to tackle the problem. In the days that would follow, the neighbors along that steep road in Kingston, quickly worked with the county and eachother to tap an excavation group — Whitworth Excavating — to come out and shore up the roadway to allow for responders to regain access to the homes.
On March 10, Bob Whitworth and his crew were putting the final touches on the improved roadway, now sporting a concrete retaining wall. Beside Whitworth was Charles Turney, one of the residents who would have been cut off from emergency services.
“I just want to note how fast we were able to come together as a community and get this taken care of,” Tourney said. “We met and discussed what our options were going to be. By that meeting, we had already spoken with a contractor, had a [geotechnical engineer] selected and I had called Jeff Rimack at the Department of Community Development.”
Turney was careful to note how hard officials at the county — in particular, Senior Environmental Planner Steve Heacock — had worked to help move their project forward as quickly as possible.
A project with unique challenges
“The road had given way and all came down onto this driveway here,” Whitworth said, relaying all the work that his crew had accomplished at the site. “The challenging part with this slide up above, it had already broken away … every time you dig down, the sand would keep coming down. It continued sloughing, we had a big stump up there that we were concerned about with it breaking free and rolling down on us.”
Gesturing to the power lines running overhead, Whitworth noted that those lines proved a significant obstacle to his excavator operators as they worked to build up the hillside.
Tim Gaidjiergis, one of Whitworth’s crew and foreman on the project, worked for almost two weeks building up the hillside from the cab of an excavator.
“I would say it’s kind of tight,” Gaidjiergis said, also pointing up to the power lines, when asked about navigating the heavy equipment within such narrow tolerances. “Basically you only go five feet at a time, and you set a block.”
“You just take a little bit down and where it’s going to slide, it’s going to slide,” he added, noting the unusually sandy soil composition and the hillside’s tendency to slough away as the crew worked.
Ultimately Whitworth Excavating was able to sufficiently buttress the hillside by adding layers of landscaping mesh to stabilize the loose soil and, upon that, stacked large concrete blocks to hold everything in place. The improvements to the roadway were sufficient and mere hours after the last work was finished on the roadway, LaGrandeur sent out another email to the residents of Washington Boulevard.
“I’m happy to announce the repairs have been made to your road and we’ve lifted all restrictions for our fire department apparatus,” LaGrandeur’s message read. In his email the assistant fire chief called for another community meeting on March 12, but concerns over the spread of COVID-19 prompted the fire district to cancel the meeting.
When asked if the incident had shaken his resolve to live on the narrow winding road in Kingston, Turney shook his head. “You know you live on the waterfront, and it’s beautiful places like this that have these issues,” Turney said. “You deal with them, or you live somewhere else. It really doesn’t matter where you live, mother nature is mother nature, she’s going to do what she does. You can have a beautiful home in the middle of Florida and find out you’re living on top of a sinkhole.”
“It’s the cost of living in paradise … Kingston is a wonderful place because of the people and our ability to deal with the costs of living in paradise.”