New flood damage has closed the road not long after the National Park Service spent $450,000 on a temporary fix to reopen it after the last flood.
A mighty river eats what it wants: So it is with the Elwha River, unleashed from its dams and just finished munching the Olympic Hot Springs Road for the second time.
The river flooded Nov. 22 and 23, barreling down the road as it went. The extent of the damage is yet unknown, beneath the roiling water that has not completely subsided.
The Elwha ate the road in 2015, during the first major rains after removal of two major dams on the river in the largest dam-removal project ever anywhere.
The National Park Service worked to reopen access to the river after that flood, putting in a temporary bridge and repaving the road, at a cost of $450,000. The road was reopened to vehicles just last January after being closed due to flood damage since late November, 2015.
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The Elwha demolished about 90 feet of the roadway in that flood.
Campgrounds also destroyed by the river in the 2015 flood have not been repaired because the river is expected to raid them again.
Decisions on repairs to the road won’t be made until conditions subside enough to get a good look at the damage this time, said Penny Wagner, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park.
She said planning for the long-term repair or relocation of the road has been underway since dam removal began. The road, meanwhile, remains closed to vehicle traffic just beyond the Madison Falls parking area.
The road in the future may be relocated outside the flood plain. A permanent fix is scheduled to be implemented in 2020-21.
While it’s been tough on the road, undamming the Elwha is reviving the ecology of the Elwha watershed, with changes already evident all the way to saltwater.
There are trees thriving on hundreds of acres once underwater in reservoirs. Salmon are spawning above the former dam sites, and Washington’s newest beach is growing where before there was only bare, eroded rock because of all the sediment stuck behind the dams.
A mountain river like the Elwha — three quarters of which is within the wilderness of Olympic National Park — is supposed to move across its flood plain, chewing down trees and moving boulders, rocks and sand and anything else in its churning course.
After being dammed for 100 years for hydropower, the Elwha now does as it likes.
Congress called for restoration of the river and its fisheries and watershed ecology with the 1992 Elwha Act, which took decades to fund and implement. The $325 million dam-removal project began in 2011 and deconstruction was completed in 2014.
The hydropower generated by Elwha Dam and the Glines Canyon Dam was replaced for its one user, a pulp mill in Port Angeles, from the Bonneville power grid.
In operation for nearly a century, the plant was recently sold, and most of its workers laid off. McKinley, a subsidiary of the Mexican recycled-paper manufacturing giant Bio-Pappel, bought the mill, which includes a $91 million biomass cogeneration plant, for $20.6 million in a sale finalized last March, according to the Peninsula Daily News.
The plant is expected to retool and reopen in 2018 to produce liners for cardboard boxes.
Last week’s storm also closed the Upper Hoh Road as the Hoh River washed out the road at milepost 8 just outside the park.
All park facilities in the Hoh Rain Forest are closed. A landslide outside Staircase Road closed that road just outside the park boundary at the Bear Gulch Picnic area.
Visitors to the park in winter are encouraged to first call for weather and travel conditions at 360-565-3131 or check the park website at www.nps.gov/olym.