published Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

'Hanging Rock' isn't hanging anymore

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    Staff Photo by Ben Benton/Chattanooga Times Free Press Crews will be working for the next three weeks to clear a 2,000-ton boulder and an assortment of huge rocks totaling 23,000 tons that slid from the side of Viola Mountain onto state Highway 108 in Grundy County early Sunday, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

VIOLA, Tenn.—A house-sized, 2,000-ton boulder is among the 23,000 tons of rock blocking state Highway 108 on Grundy County's Viola Mountain.

The slide, which happened early Sunday about halfway between Viola and Altamont, was at a location local people call "Hanging Rock," said Jeremy Price, Tennessee Department of Transportation project manager on the slide site.

"I guess they called it that ever since the road's been here," Price said.

"It's not hanging anymore," he said Monday, eyeing the massive stone looming over work crews from where it sat in the middle of the highway.

Price said crews have been trying to reduce the largest rocks to rubble since Sunday, hoping to use the crumbled rock to build a ramp next to the former Hanging Rock. The ramp will allow a drill rig to start boring into the top of the biggest boulder, making holes where dynamite will be placed.

Price said crews could start blasting the big rock early this week. Officials estimate it will take about three weeks to clear up the mess.

Altamont resident Ralph Rieben said people who travel Highway 108 between Altamont and McMinnville have been predicting the fall of Hanging Rock for years.

"They've been saying this rock was going to fall ever since I've lived here," Rieben said, "and I've lived here for 33 years."

Rieben said people who live closest to the slide and commute between the two towns probably will have about 30 minutes added to their drive. Those who live closer to the alternate route of state Highway 56 will add 15 minutes or less to their commutes, he estimated.

State geologists said the entire bluff broke away from the mountainside, TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said.

"The geologists said the bluff just tilted forward and fell down into the road," said Flynn, who spent most of Sunday at the site.

"There's the monster rock and there are several huge ones—they're like 500 tons, but they don't look so big next to a 2,000-ton rock," she said. "That big one is just unbelievable."

The impact from the slide damaged the road but officials won't know until the rock is cleared how bad the damage is, she said. Crews also will work at the top of the bluff to stabilize some trees and overhanging rocks, she said.

Mountainous Tennessee is littered with iffy rocks and boulders along roads, Flynn said. The state targets many of them with its rockfall mitigation program, which assigns hazard ratings and funds work to some of the worst spots, she said.

Flynn said there are 232 priority sites and 949 other sites statewide that could present a significant rock fall risk. TDOT has repaired 33 sites since October 2010, the most recent one in Putnam County, she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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