The Oregon Department of Transportation recently unearthed a rusted remnant of North Coast history: an empty 1,000-gallon fuel tank buried during the legendary landslide of Feb. 3, 1974, at Silver Point.
First reported by a man walking along the beach last month, the tank could be seen jutting up from the soil, having resurfaced just above the high tide line, according to Kevin Werst, the department’s transportation maintenance manager for the Warrenton Section of District 1.
At first, the ODOT personnel sent to inspect the large steel cylinder thought it was a septic tank. But when the four-man crew went to dig it out the morning of April 21, they could smell the residual oil, according to Felix Martinez, the coordinator for the Warrenton section who led the operation.
“Once we got in there and realized what it really was, we were worried about spillage,” Martinez said. But after he and his team took a peek inside the tank, they reckoned it was safe to move, he said.
Jim Crowell, a part-time Cannon Beach resident since 1962 who lives about three-quarters of a mile north of the site where the tank was found, took photos as the men wrapped the artifact in a chain sling, pulled it from the earth with a backhoe, loaded it onto a trailer bed and hauled it away.
The tank currently resides in ODOT’s maintenance yard in Warrenton, where it is waiting to be recycled, Martinez said.
The Silver Point landslide, which occurred roughly at milepost 32, involved more than 1.5 million cubic meters of material that slushed across the highway down to the beach and “damaged or destroyed at least four houses,” according to the book “Volcanoes to Vineyards: Geologic Field Trips Through the Dynamic Landscape of the Pacific Northwest.”
The slide “closed the highway for several days” and resulted in reconstruction costs of more than $1 million, the books reads.
Crowell said that the slide knocked two beachfront houses off of their foundations. The structures were removed and never rebuilt.
Since then, “there have been no dwellings built on that entire stretch along the beach,” he said.
But leftover debris from the houses, has, over the years, “periodically kind of squirted out down near the edge of the vegetation line,” including pieces of a river rock fireplace, he said.
After the landslide — and after the massive mound of mud and clay was cleared from the highway — the state installed drain pipes to collect water accumulation. But sections of pipe have apparently become disconnected, and some have emerged from the ground “in a kind of haphazard appearance,” Crowell said.
Local historian Peter Lindsey noted that developers have had trouble building on the “somewhat mobile ground” from Silver Point to Hug Point.
“We have a long history of slides in that area south of Cannon Beach,” though most are small slides, said Lou Torres, a public information officer with ODOT. Every winter, “we’re always dealing with some mud or dirt that comes down. That’s just the nature of the beast there.”