By Martin J. Kidston
After nearly 10 years living in the shadows of U.S. Highway 2 in Havres Hillside Trailer court, Wayne Murphy has a new home sort of.
When tons of clay began sliding from under the highway and began a perilous creep toward the trailer court some 50 feet below, residents were hardly aware of the danger.
Murphy was one of them.
I got a phone call with someone from the state and they told us we had to get out, Murphy said. They told me in the 11th hour that I had to move.
And move he did.
As the forces of geology and the laws of physics did their work, the highway department was doing its own, with tractors and heavy equipment, all in an effort to retain the slope. And while the earth-movers rumbled, the department had Murphy and other residents relocated under the federal assistance program.
According to relocation specialist with the Department of Transportation, Dick Henderson, the federal funds helped the uprooted residents pay for provisions during their disruption.
Henderson said that eight trailers in all were impacted by the evacuation, six of which were occupied. Of those six, five were relocated within Hillside Trailer Court. One chose to move to another location.
The relocation project is a federal program established by Congress, Henderson said. Its there to ensure that people who are impacted by federal aid projects, such as the Highway 2 project, are treated fairly and dont shoulder the burden for expenses beyond their control.
While crews from Myson Enterprises a Havre-based construction firm moved trailer homes and made repairs within the park, Murphy worked in the shadows, tacking on a new skirt for his home which had been moved from one plot to another. He said the Highway Department had provided everything he needed to re-establish his home.
Other residents agreed.
At 80 years old, Leon Williams was ill-suited to go through the process of packing and moving, even if that move was only a few plots away from where her trailer sat. With a collection of glass lamps and china, Williams was glad to see a host of packers put her treasures in boxes for the move, and unpack them once she was in place.
They moved my whole house, Williams said. They picked up the trailer on Thursday, and they had the gas back on that same day.
Williams said her TV was reconnected on Friday, and now, shes only waiting for her telephone service.
Things are going to be fine, Williams said. Theyll put my fence back up to keep the dogs and cats out of my yard.
Though the Highway 2 project has entered its third month, the DOT had originally planned to keep the hill open through winter. However, on Oct. 18, the department said the slide was beginning to pose a risk and closed the the hill to traffic. It also began evacuating the Hillside Trailer Court.
Project Manager for the Highway Department Gary Berg said the slide is attributed to the soil under the slope and the presence of underground springs.
He said the soil is made of clay and is capable of absorbing large amounts of water making it extremely heavy. Because the slope is so steep, the heavy clay has a tendency to slide, Berg said.
The problem is mainly the weight of the soil, Berg said. The type of material out here doesnt like to stand on a steep bank.
With residents now out of harms way and traffic on detour, in order to rectify the slide, the department is building a more gradual slope.
Currently, the slope has a steep grade, Berg said, measured at nearly 1 to 1, or 1-foot of horizontal for every 1 feet of vertical rise. Berg said that grade will be reduced to a three-to-one measurement, and thus, reduce the soils tendency to slide down the incline.
Earth movers have been on the spot for more than a week, building tiers up the steep embankment that will eventually be turned into a gradual slope. Berg said the project will require 25,000 cubic meters of dirt, which roughly equals 33,000 yards of soil, Berg said. The fill dirt will be excavated from Highway 2 construction, or simply borrowed.
The highway department said it had purchased the Hillside trailer court for an undisclosed amount of money through Northern Land and Realty. The realty company would not say how much the DOT paid for the lot, other than it was less than what rumors suggest.
The lot is owned by Marcel Thiel who could not be reached by phone.