update on Gros Ventre Butte landslide

By Jim Stanford on April 10, 2014


Update 6:30 p.m.: We received good news from George Machan, the landslide consultant. Based on a preliminary survey of the site and related data, he estimates the chance of a sudden, catastrophic failure at about 5 percent. Also, the area most at risk may be limited to Walgreens and the east portion of Budge Drive, he said. Wet weather may accelerate movement, he cautioned, and further monitoring is necessary.

Businesses in the Hillside Building will be allowed to reopen, except for Sidewinders. The evacuation order for Budge Drive will remain in effect.

There will be a community meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at Jackson Elementary School gym (next to the rec center) to give an overview of the East Gros Ventre Butte landslide.

George Machan, a landslide expert from Oregon, has been on the butte today and will give an assessment of the geology and slide risks.

The Jackson Town Council also will meet at 5 p.m. at Town Hall, mainly to authorize the emergency command team to expend funds and take appropriate response steps. The meeting should be streamed online.

The ground continues to move on the butte. Power lines were being stretched, and a 2-foot sinkhole opened near the bottom of Budge Drive. Lower Valley Energy was working to release tension on the lines.

There are propane tanks buried beside homes on Budge Drive and gas lines in the vicinity. Also of concern is a town water main fed by a 2-million-gallon storage tank on the butte. Emergency responders are planning for the worst should these utilities be affected.

The scale of this slide may be larger than previously thought. Survey markers have been placed higher on the butte, and crews are monitoring any movement. But there’s little that can be done to alleviate the danger, other than moving people out of harm’s way.

Commenters have been arguing over who’s to blame, but it’s becoming apparent that this predicament goes well beyond Walgreens and the homes on Budge Drive. For 100 years we, as a community, have been cutting away at the hill, building roads, extracting gravel and establishing homes and businesses in an area where perhaps nature never intended them to be.

I take solace in two things: Nobody has died or been injured, and we have emergency plans in place. Landslides generally don’t announce their arrival, and few communities have the luxury of planning in advance for such an emergency.


Posted under Environment, Politics, Town Government

13 Comments so far

  1. dr April 10, 2014 8:31 pm

    Thanks for the continued information. Yes, most important thing is nobody has ended up in the hospital or worse.

    But it has not been proven that the massive earthwork at the toe only two years ago was not a contributing factor. Or, that it was. It will shake out after 3-5 years of engineering and legal wrangling.
    But to try and dismiss it lightly as ‘this is because of 100 years of development’ comes off as the town trying to cover their back end. We just don’t know yet.

  2. Robin April 10, 2014 9:23 pm

    Thank You Jim Sanford for your true insight on the “catastrophic”, man-made landslide. I understand the seriousness and the potential loss of the structures involved, but I’m also so tired of the self absorbed community that Jackson has become. It still never ceases to amaze me, that this community has unending complaints about the most asinine occurances, and feels “victimized” with inconvenient situations. “Why can’t we use the bike path while the elk are migrating? , “I had to wait 10 minutes in construction today, why can’t the town fix that?”,and it goes on. I used to love Jackson, I was born here. However the current population is so absorbed with their own desires, that common sense eludes them. If we look at the rest of our country, which deals with mass murders, gangs, and extreme poverty, we as Tetons County residents need to have a reality check.

  3. Jim Stanford April 10, 2014 9:59 pm

    Yes, dr. I did not mean to dismiss it. The landslide expert cited the earth removal for Walgreens among at least four human activities that exacerbated the slide. He also mentioned construction of retaining walls for Budge Drive and Hillside Building, which cut the slope, and the addition of fill material for the affected house on Budge Drive, which added weight to the top of the slide.
    When I wrote earlier about 100 years of community decisions, I was confronting the possibility of a large landslide affecting much of the butte, one that could cause problems for decades, even forcing the relocation of West Broadway. Mr. Machan allayed some fears, but significant challenges remain, and he warned that the slide still could “lurch” 10 or 20 feet and deposit debris, particularly during wet weather.

  4. dr April 10, 2014 11:17 pm

    Thanks for adding context, makes good sense in that light. Appreciate you digging in to this issue in detail.
    Hopefully the TV’s at the Winder can have playoff hockey soon…

  5. To Robin April 11, 2014 7:50 am

    “I’m also so tired of the self absorbed community that Jackson has become.”

    Move to someplace where people can’t express any opinion – like North Korea. You’ll like it there.

    Jackson is indeed a spoiled community but no need to get all upset about it.

  6. Rob W April 11, 2014 10:37 am

    Was anything profound said in last nights meeting? I’m traveling…didn’t get to watch.

  7. Jim Stanford April 11, 2014 11:18 am

    It’s archived: http://jacksonwy.swagit.com/play/04102014-943

    The geologist/landslide expert answered many of our questions.

    Also, for more updates on the situation: http://townofjackson.com/current/hillside-complex-reduced-evacuation-order-evacuation-advisory-exceptions/

  8. Sammy S April 11, 2014 3:55 pm

    What is the chance of everything below the crack sliding? That’s what people would like to know. Can I park my car at Walgreens and not be concerned once it reopens? Are the big power lines moving – the ones that run out to Hwy 22?

    The odds may be low that the whole mtn goes but the way the Town has reacted sure seems like the odds are pretty high that something is going to go. The mixed messages are interesting.

    Any reason why we have firemen in full dress up the ladder. They can’t wear something more reasonable?

  9. Scott April 11, 2014 4:53 pm


    don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart.

    you just gotta poke around.

  10. joe April 11, 2014 6:17 pm

    Did it move today?

  11. chris April 12, 2014 1:54 am

    the information at the emergency town council meeting was way more detailed than the 7pm public meeting. the live stream of town council meetings is a great idea.

  12. Mike April 12, 2014 5:47 am

    Love the dead reference!!

  13. Heidi April 19, 2014 11:06 am

    Well-said, Mr. Stanford! Thank you for the info – and your sensible voice.

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