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As Okanogan River Rises, WSDOT Fortifies U.S. Highway 97

Emily Schwing/Northwest News Network
Massive sandbags protect a portion of U.S. HIghway 97 from flooding from the nearbby Okanogan River.

Crews with the Washington Department of Transportation have been working for two days to fortify a stretch of U.S. Highway 97 threatened by the rising Okanogan River.

A few days ago, there were a few small piles of sandbags, some cones and a sign warned drivers to slow down at Milepost 313.

Now, traffic is whittled down to a single lane as crews work to spread piles of sand along the shoulder on both sides of the road. Small, brown sandbags line the roadsides. A front loader moves massive piles of giant white sandbags that are each half the size of a small station wagon.

U.S. Highway 97 is a major route for trucks carrying freight to and from Canada. They are loaded with everything from lumber to wine. When they cross the border just north of Oroville, they enter British Columbia by way of the sixth busiest border crossing along the 49th parallel.

A WSDOT spokesman said if flood water does rise high enough to inundate the road, there is an alternative route for cars. That’s just more difficult for trucks to navigate.