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Studying the sinkhole and deciding what to do next. Photo submitted

Sinkhole or culvert failure? Regardless – it closes a portion of Hwy 70

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Yesterday afternoon, a driver with High Sierra Gas suddenly found himself in an unusual situation — sinking on Highway 70 near the Nervino Airport in Beckwourth. The incident occurred in the westbound lane just west of the airport.

After the truck was freed from the hole, the roadway was reopened to one-way controlled traffic, but ultimately closed completely from Highway 89 to Highway 49. Motorists going east or westbound through the Sierra Valley must detour around it, adding roughly 30 to 40 minutes to their trip.

It’s been described as both a sinkhole and a culvert failure. The latter would be preferable because it would be easier to fix. Caltrans is estimating a two-week timeframe before the highway will be reopened.

Others think that is a cautious estimate, and if it’s a culvert failure it could reopen sooner than that. Plumas County’s Deputy Publics Work Director Joe Blackwell said that if it’s a culvert failure, the area will have to be dug out and restored. If weather cooperates, he thinks that it would be sooner than two weeks.

In the meantime, he wants the public to ignore their GPS apps and use the posted detours. He cited Marble Hot Springs Road as an area that is flooded, and even when it’s open, its bridges won’t support truck-and trailer-traffic. Last evening several vehicles became stranded on the roadway.

CHP spokesman Jeff Rood echoed the same warning and asked motorists to use Highways 49 and 89 from Blairsden to Sierraville to Loyalton and on to Vinton heading east, and to reverse the drive heading west.

Impacts

This closure will impact a number of individuals who regularly commute through the area.

For example, Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Bill Roderick said that he has seven employees who reside east of the closure, as well as a bus route that carries students through the area. The employees — four teachers, a classified aide and one administrative staff member — will be impacted by the increased travel. The bus picks up a handful of students in the town of Beckwourth, which is west of the slide but within the closure. Roderick said the district has received permission to take the bus into Beckwourth.

That might work for the time being, but according to the CHP, at some point barriers will be erected. As of now, the closure is staffed.

As for the Sheriff’s Office, CHP and emergency personnel, there is currently an area for vehicles to get around in the event of an emergency, but it is unknown how long that option would be available.

This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.

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