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State leaders seek flood relief

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

November 18, 2006

Rep. Patti Smith and Sen. Rick Metsger will tour the destruction of infrastructure at Farmers and Middle Fork irrigation district holdings on Tuesday.

The two legislators want to view the carnage wrought by a surge of water and debris on Nov. 9. The 15-foot-high torrent ripped out hydropower lines and filled canals with sediment.

Metsger and Smith are compiling data in the hopes of garnering the maximum amount of state aid. Not only are the economic losses mounting into the millions from the extensive damage in Hood River County, but the two legislators are dealing with property owners along the Sandy River that have been left homeless.

“What scares me is that this could get worse – it’s only November,” said Smith. “We need to be cutting through the red tape to expedite repair work and figure out how we can prevent as many future problems as possible.”

She and Metsger reported on the grim scenario to the Joint Emergency Preparedness Committee in Salem this week. Their list of woes was long and included the following facts:

* Farmers Irrigation District is crippled from generating the full $2.5 million each year from hydropower production that is necessary to cover operating costs. Middle Fork has completely lost its ability to produce power worth $1.2 million each year. The two agencies support the county’s agricultural industry that feeds $85 million into the local economy. Without state and federal aid, Farmers will be unable to deliver water to 1,400 customers this summer and Middle Fork to 420 clients.

* Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort has been isolated by devastation along Highway 35, which has also led to the closure of Highway 26 to that area. The business is Hood River County’s largest private employer with 1,000 workers during the winter season. Plus, 500,000 annual visitors add tourism dollars to the $5 million payroll brought into the county by Meadows.

* Mt. Hood Railroad faces bankruptcy from a complete shut down of operations due to extensive damage of the track near Dee. The embankment has also been undercut at various points along the route to Parkdale. The company employs 60-70 workers and provides freight service for lumber, fruit and propane from the mid-valley region. An estimated $6-$7 million is contributed to the county’s economy by the railroad.

Metsger has requested that Gov. Ted Kulongoski place the Oregon National Guard on standby to help with repair work in the valley.

However, the Oregon Department of Transportation believes it has the situation in hand The agency has hired Tri-State Construction, Inc., to mobilize equipment materials and manpower to get at least one lane open to Meadows as soon as possible. The resort usually opens by the first part of December. ODOT has tasked Tri-State with working extended-hour shifts, possibly even 24 hours a day in some locations, to speed up repairs.

“Although ODOT doesn’t think the services of the Guard are necessary at this time, we need to keep that option open. There is a sense of immediacy here because of the potential for an economic emergency,” said Metsger.

Smith believes the floods have highlighted the need for better communication between government agencies. For example, she said the Division of State Lands owns some sections of waterway and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction of others. So, valuable time has been wasted this week tracking down the proper authority to gain permission to enact flood and erosion control measures.

“It’s very clear that we need one individual in charge during these events to quickly sort out issues and get things moving,” said Smith. “We also need a clearly defined plan of action so everyone is on the same page and can act quickly.”

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