Lents folks optimistic about Johnson Creek flood-control plans

It’s called the “East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project”. Discover why citizens who live and work along outer SE Foster Rd. say they’re cautiously optimistic about the city’s effort to reduce flooding …

Many people turned out to learn more about the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project, and share their concerns

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Remember early December rainstorms that caused outer SE Foster Road to flood and close for two days?

This flooding in the Lents Neighborhood is a symptom of a long-standing problem which the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) staff is working to resolve.

On January 22, BES staffers held an open house to discuss their plan to reduce flooding – the plan is called the “East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project”.

Lents neighbor Joyce Beedle talks with Marie Johnson, BES Program Coordinator for the Johnson Creek Watershed Program.

Extra channel to absorb storm surges
“We’re here to share with people the initial design work done,” Marie Johnson, BES Coordinator, Johnson Creek Watershed Program, tells us. “This is a project that will be built south of SE Foster Road, between the former Freeway Lands Company site and about SE 112th Ave.”

Looking at a proposed design map, we see they propose to build a new channel that snakes around existing properties. We ask if this project will impinge on established neighbors.

“Our design ideas take advantage of BES-owned properties,” explains Johnson. “We’ll use them to the extent we can – with the budget we have. It’s always been our assumption in this part of the project that we are working on BES property we currently own.”

Johnson again asserts that this is an early design. “There’ll be a lot more work on it as we go along.”

Timetable spelled out
The design work will happen over the next year or so, Johnson informs us, and then will go into the permitting process. Actual construction is scheduled for year 2010.

Here’s the early design project drawing for the plan floated by BES that will add an extension to Johnson Creek that is designed to absorb the higher levels of water produced by major storms.

Gives historical perspective on creek floods
Saying she’s witness to the history of the area, neighbor Joann Davis mentions that she grew up living close to Johnson Creek. “I now live within two blocks of where I grew up; my folks purchased in 1930 at SE 101st Avenue and SE Boise Street.”

While she doesn’t live directly on the creek, Davis says, “It affects my community. I remember when Johnson Creek used to flood much worse than it does now. A lot of the kids I went to school with were flooded out every year.”

Comparatively speaking, Davis goes on, “things now are very good. Flooding is just one of those things that happen. I think what BES is going to help. I’ve seen it help already.”

City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services engineer Dave Whitaker answers questions posed by Lents neighbor Ed Fitzgerald about the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project.

Thinks City takes it seriously
Lents neighbor Ed Fitzgerald says that, although he lives in the flood-prone area between SE 106th and 108th Avenues, south of SE Foster Road, “In the ’96 flood, we had a couple of inches of water in our house. We were indirectly affected by our last high-water episode. My house was okay, but I couldn’t get out for 12 to 15 hours, because Foster Road was flooded.”

Regarding the proposed solution, Fitzgerald comments, “I think they’re taking the flooding seriously. I’m not sure what the solution is, but they are looking at the problem. I’m interested in what they’re proposing, because their Brookside Project doesn’t seem designed to handle rain runoff like it is supposed to do.”

Expresses cost concerns
Wes Wolfe, a board member for the neighborhood association, says he’s just speaking for himself, and says, “I’m here because I’m real curious about the different proposed plans for this project. I don’t know what could go wrong with it; I think it may do the job. And it looks like they’ve learned from their other projects; I can see they’re getting better and better.”

A concern for one unidentified resident, who lives near SE 108th Avenue and Foster Road, is the cost. “It is expensive. It looks like there is a lot of overhead that is not construction costs.”

Shares her misgivings
Joyce Beedle, a long time Lents neighbor who lives within the floodplain area, says she thinks the finished project will be great.

But, “I have a couple misgivings. One is that I would like there to be more than 30 days for us to look at the plan and think about it, and come up with suggestions. It’s taken BES years to come this far, and 30 days seems a short response time.”

Another trepidation Beedle expresses is past communication problems with the BES. “We do have some history. Sometimes, we’ve had rapid response to our concerns; other times, things been pretty dismal. So my trepidation is, which way will this project go? We’ve talked about how desperately we want the BES to be responsible, accountable contractors.”

Nevertheless, adds Beedle, she’s hopeful: “Actually, really hopeful. We have really good communication going now. I’m looking forward to how cool it could make the neighborhood.”

“Can the City make water run uphill? Asks neighbor Chuck Glasco.

Questions water running uphill
“I know the City of Portland can do some wonderful things,” muses neighbor Chuck Glasco, “but I don’t think they can make water run uphill. It looks like the southern area of the project will turn into a pond, instead of emptying out where it ties into Johnson Creek.”

Glasco points out that the surface elevation at SE Foster Road is considerably higher than at the southern point of the proposed creek extension. “It looks like the elevation rise could be to 3 feet.”

We wanted to find the answer to Glasco’s interesting question, because we checked the topographical maps and what he said was true. But time ran out to learn the answer; the Lents Neighborhood Association’s meeting was starting in the same space.

Later, Scott Clement, BES Supervising Engineer went over the proposal with us and provided the answer.

“No, we can’t make water flow uphill,” comments Clement. “The general fall of the land in that area is, north to south, high to low. But the level of the creek doesn’t follow that topography. In this case, the fall of the creek is from east to west. Indeed, the water will be flowing downhill.”

BES to review citizen input
“We’ll take input from this meeting, and from the review of the pre-design reports, and consider that, in finishing the final design,” Johnson informs. “From there, we’ll hire a design firm that will go with a critique of the process and come up with a ‘30% design’. Then we’ll go back to the community and share the design of them. We’ll also think about construction impacts, and how we mitigate for those with the neighbors.”

Their web site isn’t up yet, Johnson says, but encourages people to call her at (503) 823-6199, or e-mail her at Marie.Johnson@bes.ci.portland.or.us, for more information.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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