Mudslide prompts U research

A professor and several students are collecting data on mudslides across the state.

A protective tarp covers the damaged slope below the West Bank University of Minnesota Medical Center.

James Healy, Daily File Photo

A protective tarp covers the damaged slope below the West Bank University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Eliana Schreiber

After the June 2014 landslide, a series of minor mudslides have delayed the repair of the slope along West River Parkway near the University of Minnesota’s West Bank.
 
Originally set to be finished in October, the project’s completion has been pushed back by two months. In the meantime, a University professor is leading a research project to investigate the West River Parkway landslide and others in Hennepin County to determine what caused the slides and examine similarities between them.
 
Joshua Feinberg, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, offered a summer internship opportunity for students who took his natural hazards and disasters class.
 
The internship had students collect data about hazardous landslides across the Twin Cities.
 
Feinberg said while the West River Parkway landslide isn’t the main focus of their research, it was largely what triggered the project.
 
Hennepin County Emergency Management is funding the research, largely because of the mudslide’s proximity to the Fairview clinic, Feinberg said.
 
The tower at the top of the slide’s site is the main supplier of oxygen to the hospital, he said.
 
“If one of the major hospitals of the metro area gets compromised by a landslide, then their ability to deal with further emergencies is severely impaired,” he said.
 
The researchers’ goal in collecting the data, Feinberg said, is to create a historical database of all the area landslides dating back to 1890.
 
The internship was slated to end at the end of the summer, but HCEM extended its funding through the fall, said Jessica Palazzolo, an earth sciences senior and one of the project’s interns.
 
She said HCEM wants to use the data to develop a plan for future hazards.
 
Originally, she said, the project started in Hennepin County but has recently expanded to the entire state.
 
Other than the harm it caused to the hospital, Palazzolo said the West River Parkway slide wasn’t different in relation to historical landslides the interns compared it to.
 
“It had about the same average of rainfall prior to and after that the other landslides were having in previous years,” she said.
 
Palazzolo, another University student and one non-university student are working together on the project and have collected data for about 50 landslides, 14 specifically in Hennepin County.
 
Slope repair delayed
 
The slope on West River Parkway runs along the river between Franklin Avenue East and Fourth Street South, about 4,000 square yards near the Fairview hospital.
 
Deborah Bartels, the project manager, said the workers who are repairing the slope have run into problems due to increased rainfall.
 
Wet soil makes the surface heavy and unable to support the equipment needed to repair it, she said.
 
In August 2014, the landslide was officially declared a Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster.
 
The project will cost about $5 million, Bartels said. 
 
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which is overseeing the project, is heavily dependent on federal funds, she said.
 
The park board plans to erect five walls up to 13 feet tall at the bottom and top of the slope to stabilize it.
 
“We want this wall to last forever, so we want good engineering, and we want to make sure it is constructed according to specifications,” she said.
 
The project is expected to be completed before the end of the year.