‘Rain Garden’ saves church, helps Johnson Creek

Discover why this project at St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church is considered a success for everyone involved …

Friends, supporters and volunteers from the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church “Rain Garden Project” meet for a dedication, and the celebration of its completion.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The passing rain shower seemed fitting, as people gathered outside the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church on SE 92nd Avenue, between SE Flavel Street and the I-205 Overpass, in outer East Portland on May 10.

Running the length of the church, a cordoned off “rain garden” was collecting rainwater runoff from the brief sprinkle – just as was intended.

“For a long time, we had a flooding issue here at our church,” said the church’s Chairman Tadele Gelagay.

“Our parking lot would trap rainwater, and it would flood into the church,” Gelagay told East Portland News. “We’d pump the water out to the street, and be laying sandbags to help keep the water from getting back into the church. We had a dry well [sump], but it did not work sufficiently to catch all the water – so, our church kept getting flooded every time it heavily rained.”

St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church Chairman Tadele Gelagay thanks the organizations and volunteers who helped with the project – which not only helps nature, but also saved the church from continual flooding.

The project consisted of removing pavement, Gelagay explained. “As you can see, near the church where the ground sloped down, it was dug out. Then, we put in soil amenities, and established a “rain garden” to catch and filter the rainwater runoff from the rest of the parking lot.”

This stopped the flooding problem, he added, “And it was done using a ‘green solution’ to our problem, as well. It also reduced our ‘Storm Water Fee’ by 78%!”

At the dedication, Metro District 6 Councilor Bob Stacey and State Representative Jeff Reardon (D) of District 48 congratulated all who were involved with the project – including the City of Portland, Johnson Creek Watershed Council, De-Pave, and Green Lents.

Standing in the rain, in the Rain Garden, are Johnson Creek Watershed Council Director Matt Clark and his son is Quillan.

“Part of the role Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC) played in this project was being the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization fiscal administrator for the grant which the church received from the City of Portland,” said the organization’s Director Matt Clark. “This was the Bureau of Environmental Services Community Watershed Stewardship Grant of $10,000.”

Beyond that, Clark said the JCWC helped the church do additional fund-raising last summer.  “We co-hosted a traditional Ethiopian dinner that raised an additional $2,200.  And, we also help recruit volunteers for the project.”

There were two “best parts” of the project from JCWC’s standpoint, Clark added. “The project benefited both people and wildlife.  It benefited wildlife in that it stops storm water runoff from going directly into Johnson Creek, along with a bunch of pollutants, dirt, and debris. And, it also helps these wonderful people make their church safe and dry.”

Guests select their favorite authentic Ethiopian foods at a lunch buffet.

State Representative Jeff Reardon enjoys his Ethiopian lunch, and makes new friends.

More than 80 volunteers helped out to do this in various stages, Chairman Gelagay commented, as guests were welcomed inside the church’s assembly room for lunch.

“From fundraising to de-paving, to digging out the area, to planting the garden – so many people pitched in to help with this project.  We are so happy that it came out, and that’s why we’re having this celebration here today!”

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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