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Aftermath of the 1996 Rockland Landslide
For a month following the initial slide, smaller blocks continued to fall from the steep landward slopes. These continued slope failures resulted in the enlargement of the affected area by landward progression of the vertical scarp. This progression moved the main scarp to within 15 feet of a sewer main on the seaward side of the road. Possible disruption of a city water main buried beneath the landward shoulder of the road was also of public concern.
To protect the road and minimize further enlargement of the landslide area, the City of Rockland hired a private geotechnical engineering firm, R.G. Gerber-Jacques Whitford, Inc. of Freeport, ME, to undertake a stabilization project (Figure 3). The city received partial funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To buttress the road it was necessary to place fill on top of the clay that had failed during the landslide. The failed clay was very soft and unable to support heavy loads of buttressing fill, unless the fill was emplaced in a particular sequence. The toe or front of the slide had to be stabilized before the head of the slide could be filled. To begin, an access to the slide area was constructed across the remaining foundation of one of the destroyed homes. From here a road was built down to the toe of the slide. At the toe, an excavation was dug down to sea level and heavy stone riprap was emplaced to contain the buttressing fill. Heavy rock fill was placed behind the rip rap barrier on the lower part of the landslide area. On the upper part of the slope, lightweight cement kiln dust, available locally from the Dragon Cement Company, was used to cover the slide area progressively from the toe toward the headscarp. The combination of heavy fill at the bottom of the slide and lightweight fill at the top was a critical factor in the success of the stabilization process. Once this fill was emplaced, topsoil from the slopes surrounding the landslide area was used to cover the fill. This topsoil excavation reduced the slope of the headscarp area to an angle that is normally stable over the long term. Following the spreading of topsoil the entire reclaimed area was seeded with grass and mulched. Figures 4 and 5 show the slide before and after the stabilization project. Figure 4 was taken in April, 1996; Figure 5, in September, 1997.
The 1996 landslide in Rockland, Maine was a catastrophic event. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but two homes were completely destroyed and along with the emergency operations and stabilization project the total cost exceeded $750,000. A detailed geologic account of the Rockland landslide is available from the Maine Geological Survey as Open-File Report 96-18 "The April 1996 Rockland Landslide."
Although catastrophic events such as the 1996 Rockland landslide are infrequent in Maine, the more gradual erosion of marine bluffs is a continuing natural process affecting much of the coast. Marine geologists of the Maine Geological Survey map and study those areas which may be more susceptible to various types of bluff erosion. The north shore of Rockland Harbor was among several areas identified in a 1989 book, Living with the Coast of Maine, as potentially hazardous.
The City of Rockland has commissioned a detailed engineering study of this area in order to better understand the geologic situation so that further property damage caused by bluff erosion can be minimized.
Originally published on the web as the September 1997 Site of the Month.
Last updated on October 6, 2005
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