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Blasting ceases on Highway 97 Add to ...

Blasting was suspended yesterday at the unstable bluff above Highway 97 in the Okanagan near Summerland, as crews awaited the arrival of sensitive monitoring equipment to provide a better picture of the dangers presented by the slope.

The slope continues to separate from the main bluff at a rate of 10 to 15 millimetres a day after a metre-wide crack was spotted 11 days ago by construction crews working on a $54-million highway expansion project. If the slope fails, as much as 300,000 cubic metres of hillside could fall.

Crews had blasted the bluff on Saturday, and a single earth berm had been completed at the bottom of the slope to deflect any falling material from nearby lakeshore properties, said highway project spokeswoman Jacqui Lloyd.

The highway between Kelowna and Penticton has been closed since Oct. 24, leaving the 14,000 commuters who use the route daily scrambling.

Ms. Lloyd said other sections at the bottom of the slope were also being shored up, and crews were trying to determine whether heavy equipment could go on top of the slope to drill.

Steve Dimond, a partner with Arthon Contractors, the construction firm that had been working on the highway expansion when the fracture was discovered, said it would likely take another week before they could determine how long the highway will stay closed.

While the slope continued to move, traffic would not be allowed through, he said.

"We're finding things all the time ... to get the road open we don't really have a great idea [of when that might happen]"

Houdini, a young mountain goat rescued by workers last week after becoming stuck in the crevasse, had returned to the site, Mr. Dimond added. "Oh, he was out on the hill again watching us [on Saturday] I had to shoo him away from the equipment."

Meanwhile, a free water-taxi service that began Saturday was suspended for five hours yesterday afternoon when swells of up to 2 metres were churning up Okanagan Lake.

Two 75-passenger water taxis have been hired to run a daily hourly service between the Summerland Yacht Club and Okanagan Lake Park.

However, the director of operations for a Penticton charter airline said it was unfair the water taxis were being fully subsidized by the B.C. government when his company had been cutting back on profits in order to carry passengers.

Mark Holmes said Southern Skies Aviation has been shuttling passengers between Penticton and Kelowna since Wednesday at a cost of $60 one way for the 20-minute flight. The number of flights the airline makes each day depends on the needs of passengers, he said, with several flights taking only one passenger, causing the company to lose money. Mr. Holmes said he had no success in reaching Transportation Ministry representatives to find out if they could receive a subsidy that could be passed on to customers.

Drivers still have the choice of two road detours, one on a local logging road that takes three hours and another on a highway route that can take up to five hours.

For more information on the water taxi and road detours, visit .

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