A ‘humbling’ flood zone tour


News staff writer

November 25, 2006

Rep. Patti Smith described the swath of destruction left by a massive mudflow through the Eliot Creek Basin on Nov. 7 as “humbling.”

“It’s really amazing because it shows us how mortal we really are,” she said during a tour of the flood zone on Tuesday.

Smith and Sen. Rick Metsger seemed undaunted by the pelting hail as they viewed the devastation left behind by the recent storm. The once pristine forest floor had been buried under several feet of sediment and boulders. And the few trees that managed to stay upright during the torrent were stripped of bark more than six feet high on the uphill side.

“It’s pretty remarkable to see the wide swath of damage that Mother Nature caused,” said Metsger.

The state legislators were also shown the extensive damage to the hydropower infrastructure of Middle Fork and Farmers irrigation districts. The two agencies have not only lost revenue needed to cover operating costs but the ability to provide water to fruit growers within their respective jurisdictions.

Bill Fashing, the county’s economic development coordinator, has estimated that the agriculture industry could lose $22 million next year if the irrigation districts aren’t able to provide water.

“This really is an emergency situation,” said Ron Rivers, chair-elect of the Hood River County Commission.

He and Fashing joined the Nov. 21 tour set up by Jerry Bryan, manager of Farmers. Also included in the visit were: Don Chamber, chair of Farmers’ board of directors; Craig DeHart representing Middle Fork; Dave Meriwether, county administrator; Steve Benton, a Farmers board member; Bob Benton, interim county commissioner; and Bob Nickelsen, a member of Farmers’ board.

“I think the level of interest has been exceptional and is going to create a ripple effect that gets things done,” said Bryan.

The first stop of the afternoon provided Metsger and Smith with an opportunity to view structural damage that has crippled Farmers’ ability to generate power. The local and state officials watched heavy equipment at work repairing the access road so that the main canal inlet could be reached. Farmers wants a temporary fix within the next month that will bring production back up from one-third to full capacity.

The first step, said Bryan, is to rebuild 60 feet of primitive roadway to the canal along the Hood River. The good news with that project, he said, is that the cost, about $500,000 will stabilize slopes and strengthen the road against future problems. Bryan said the bad news is that — without the $8,000-$10,000 of daily hydropower revenue — there is not enough money to pay any extra bills.

Smith and Metsger have pledged to sleuth out as many funding sources for the repairs as possible, as well as help streamline the permitting processes.

Bryan would like to find the $1-2 million needed to reconstruct the main canal inlet and control gates as a “fortress” against repeats of the grim scenario. The recent havoc occurred after heavy rainfalls inundated glacial material on Mount Hood that had not yet frozen for solidity. Scientists estimate that one million cubic yard of sediment came down the mountainside and entered several waterways. Although that amount of debris is higher than in past years, Bryan said the problem is nothing new — and therefore is likely to happen again.

He envisions placing a “nose cone” of reinforced concrete and steel gates at the entrance to the tunnel that the diversion canal flows through. He said that would stop debris from getting downriver to damage hydropower equipment.

DeHart anticipates that Middle Fork will have a “band-aid” fix in place within the next three weeks. For about $250,000-$300,000, the district can replace 500 feet of 36-inch main line that washed out and another 150 feet that was flattened. The district can then begin generating power to produce about $4,300 of daily income for operating capital. And get water delivered to Parkdale orchardists.

However, DeHart said the entire 2,700 feet of main line needs to be buried deeper to forestall future problems. He said some sections are now laying either right on the surface or just below it.

“I’d like to see us go as deep as we feasibility can, at least 10 feet, but we don’t have any cost estimates on that yet,” he said.

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