City and contractors celebrate phase-one completion of ‘East Lents Flood Restoration Project’

Find out why even the heaviest rains this winter won’t cause Johnson Creek to flood over SE Foster Road – as this Lents neighborhood area is turned into a flood basin …

City of Portland officials and contractors gather to celebrate, as the “East Lents Flood Restoration Project” nears completion

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For decades, the phrases “winter storms” and “Johnson Creek floods Foster Road” have gone hand in hand – much to the consternation of businesses and residents in that part of the Lents neighborhood.

  • For those who can’t remember the mess usually caused when Johnson Creek overflows, see our story about the project that we published in 2007: CLICK HERE.

But, starting in 1995, the City of Portland developed a plan to keep these annual deluges from stranding neighbors and flooding businesses.

The “East Lents Flood Restoration Project” wasn’t welcomed by dozens of homeowners south of SE Foster road, between the I-205 freeway and SE 111th Avenue. The reason is simple: These residents were “encouraged” to sell their property to the City to make way for a flood plain.

Daniela Brod Portland’s Green Infrastructure Coordinator, and former Johnson Creek Watershed Manager from 1995 until 2000, celebrates with the project’s current manager, Maggie Skenderian.

“As you can see, we’ve almost completed the project,” smiled Maggie Skenderian, Johnson Creek Watershed Manager from the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), at a milestone celebration hosted by BES on October 10.

“We’ve been working through the ‘Willing Seller Program’ from the mid-90s,” Skenderian added. “The last of the residents in this area moved out about this time last year. Many of the folks moved out of the area completely; a couple of folks really wanted to stay in the area, and actually relocated to the top of SE 108th Avenue.”

Actually, some of the neighbors living closest to Johnson Creek didn’t usually get flooded, Skenderian pointed out. “It’s because they were up on high spots. But, those high spots meant less ‘flood storage’ was available. Part of this project was to grade back those high ground areas on the sides of the stream, and let the creek have better access to the flood plain.”

All of the houses, streets, and trees of what was once a neighborhood in the east Lents neighborhood have been removed, as it’s being prepared to become a flood plain for Johnson Creek.

But, the project isn’t yet complete. “The second phase of the project will focus on taking out the bridges,” Skenderian confided. “There are a couple of bridges at SE 106th and 108th Avenues, and a small crossing of Johnson Creek and SE 110th Avenue, that will be removed so we can fully expand the creek banks in those areas to access the flood plain. It’s a bit of a dance to figure out all the different pieces.”

Additionally, BES will be putting in a new access road at the top of SE 110th Avenue and then removing the access road at SE 108th Avenue. “Finally, there’ll be some additional stream bank work and tree planting,” noted Skenderian. “The project should be pretty much complete this time next year.”

We asked if any “Freeway Land” property was required to make changes. “No,” replied Skenderian. “We have an easement with them to allow some flooding over there in the mitigation wetland that they created.  Otherwise things are status quo over there.”

When Johnson Creek overflows, water will now back up against this western wall of the flood plain, at a box culvert water-control structure now being constructed.

Portland BES Director Dean Marriott addresses the group, and welcomes US Representative Earl Blumenauer.

Portland BES Director Dean Marriott welcomed guests to the gathering. “We’re trying to get the flooding off SE Foster Road. We want to give the water a place to go where it will be good for fish and wildlife. Although it took us a long time to acquire the more than 80 properties from over 60 property owners in the area – now, all those houses are gone.”

Marriott pointed out that the project required removing more than 50,000 cubic yards of dirt from the floodplain. “We structured the banks of Johnson Creek, and did some of the landscaping. Next summer we will finish that work, and put in a walking trail.”

After being introduced, US Representative Earl Blumenauer. (D) 3rd District. said that part of the funding for this project came from a $2.7 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Mitigation Program.

This project will save money in the long run, assures US Representative Earl Blumenauer.

“Part of what is demonstrated here is the wisdom of FEMA, with flood insurance reform, to recognize that it is cheaper, more sensible, and more environmentally protective, as well as easier on the human population, to move people out of harm’s way,” Blumenauer said.

This “pre-disaster mitigation”, Blumenauer said, is “an investment by the federal government that is going to save money. This year, we’ve had, I think, nine disasters already at a cost of $1 billion. [The savings created by this project] aren’t just the dollar cost. They [also represent the] cost of the disruption of families, and business and environmental destruction, when flooding takes place, putting all sorts of toxic materials into the environment.”

Wrapping up his remarks, Blumenauer said, “This is a simple, commonsense approach that is going to save taxpayer money. And, it’s going to give us a facility that people are going to be able to enjoy in terms of the recreational opportunities, too.”

After Blumenauer concluded his remarks, celebrants sipped coffee and enjoyed cake. The light mist turned to a steady rain – foreshadowing the winter weather ahead. Weather that hopefully won’t cause Johnson Creek to again flood its banks.

To learn more about the East Lents Flood Restoration Project, CLICK HERE to see the Portland BES website.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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