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Thistle Mud Slide

Aerial view of Thistle mud slide

A large amount of moisture during the winter of 1982-1983 saturated many areas of the state. On April 14, 1983, the entire side of a mountain began to slide onto state highways 6 and 89 in Spanish Fork Canyon, directly below the town of Thistle in Utah County. The slide closed the highway, severed the Rio Grande Railroad tracks, and plugged the Spanish Fork River with 2.4 million cubic yards of material. Within a few days rising water began flooding homes at Thistle and the entire town was evacuated.

Governor Scott M. Matheson requested assistance from the federal government. President Ronald Reagan sent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Louis Giuffrida to Utah. The area was declared a natural disaster. Water soon backed 3.5 miles and 113 feet deep, completely covering the town of Thistle.

Due to the massive amount of material which had been displaced and the instability of the surrounding soil, the decision was made to tunnel through Billies Mountain to reconnect the railroad. It was also decided to rebuild the highway over Billies Mountain. A large volume of expensive equipment was moved on sight and the Utah Highway Patrol was given the responsibility of providing 24 hour security and to keep curious onlookers out.

Truck traffic which normally passed through the Peerless Port of Entry was routed south. The Patrol responded by utilizing a Department of Transportation trailer as a temporary port of entry near Salina. This facility was manned by Sergeant M. L. Meanea, and Troopers Jim Brierly, Al Christianson, Dave Guest, and Stewart Hunsaker from Carbon and Utah Counties. Portable scale crews which also assisted included Bud Bowman, Kirk Harding, Abe Haycock, Gene Robb, Dennis Shields, Charles Weber, and Blain Wilson. Operational for only seven months, this port checked over 57,000 trucks, sold over $80,000 in permits, and made nearly 80 drug arrests.

Many other areas of the state were also flooded. State Street in Salt Lake City became a raging river. Huge dikes were built to prevent flooding of Provo and Interstate 15, when Utah

Lake raised four feet above flood level. Roads in many canyons were heavily damaged by eroding water. By June 3rd, Davis, Salt Lake, and Sanpete Counties were also declared disaster areas by FEMA. Other counties which were heavily damaged included Weber, Juab, Millard, Sevier, Beaver, Morgan, and Wasatch. Temporary Interstate 15 was flooded near Levan. State Highway 89 from Brigham City to Cache County was flooded at Dry Lake. Utah was anything but dry. It was a very busy year for the Utah Highway Patrol.