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North Dakota highway hill is cut down to size after landslides near Killdeer

KILLDEER, N.D. -- The back seat of Mike Schlichting's pickup looks like a home office, minus the desk and a few other amenities. Since August, he has been the on-site supervisor for the massive, nearly $3 million reconstruction of a piece of stat...

Killdeer Road
Site supervisor Mike Schlichting, left, and Marty Miller talks about moving the scrapers and dozers off the job site, now that the slide on Highway 22 near Killdeer in western North Dakota is repaired and open to traffic, Nov. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Bismarck Tribune, Lauren Donovan)

KILLDEER, N.D. -- The back seat of Mike Schlichting's pickup looks like a home office, minus the desk and a few other amenities.

Since August, he has been the on-site supervisor for the massive, nearly $3 million reconstruction of a piece of state Highway 22, which suffered two separate landslides this year.

On their second attempt to fix the site, engineers quit playing nice with the terrain and cut it down to size, instead.

Nearly 560,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved with nine scrapers and two bulldozers cutting as much as 80 feet off the vertical to get to a level stable roadbed.

Essentially wrapping the road around the side of a massive clay butte was not working, so the engineers lopped the butte off, instead.

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All that fill was disposed of in a ravine deep below and beside the slide repair.

"We built Hoover Dam down there," Schlichting quipped -- not a bad comparison at all given the sculpted compaction, except there's no water coming through that ravine.

The scope of the dirt disposal and the job itself are things of marvel.

Up on the highway, a fresh squirt of oil on the roadway shoulder gleamed in the morning sunlight. Cars and trucks zoomed through, drivers who could finally use the reconstructed road to get north of Killdeer, deeper into oil country, home to the ranch, over to New Town or wherever else they were destined.

The highway had been closed since late May, when soils saturated to the breaking point by heavy snow and spring rain started sloughing downhill throughout the Badlands geology.

And just when a detour around the slide was about to be opened, the whole works slid one more time, requiring another round of bidding for the large-scale reconstruction.

Martin Construction of Dickinson got to work in mid-August. Workers put in six 12-hour days a week to get the job done, coming in nearly two months earlier than the State Department of Transportation hoped would happen.

The dry late summer and fall helped "immensely," Schlichting said of the soil. "You spit out here, and it's slick as snot."

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The road officially reopened recently, though people started sneaking through the day before once the signs started going down.

Schlichting said it was a good job and a tough one, tricky with all the terrain, but not necessarily dangerous.

"It's done sliding here because we put it all (the road) in cuts," rather than onto a built-up roadbed, he said.

Next year, the DOT plans to pick up where the new reconstruction ends and cut through another massive clay butte on the way down to the Little Missouri River bottom.

But that's next year and next season's headache.

"There're a lot of happy people," Schlichting said, nodding to the traffic moving by. "I think we did all right."

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