Decade’s second ’10-year flood’ inundates East Lents at Johnson Creek

See what the wild weather earlier this week did to outer S.E. Foster Road. and learn why it’s still flooding businesses …

Constant heavy rain on December 2nd and 3rd flooded out blocks of SE Foster Road from SE 102nd to SE 111th Ave., shutting down businesses and stalling out foolish drivers.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
This week, the wild winter weather played out like a classic “good news/bad news” story.

The good new was we didn’t get beaten with a wind-blown blizzard. The bad news: Inches of rain fell within hours. Good news: it wasn’t as bad as cities to the west like Vernonia and Tillamook. But, the storm was bad news for the Lents area merchants who had to close their businesses due flooding; some are still scraping muck out of their stores.

Jack Gilbert and a friend diligently fill sandbags in the rain and wind at the S.E. 111th Avenue at Harold Street site, hoping to keep water from pouring into their home.

Forecasters’ warnings come true
“We started forecasting this event five days before it hit,” says Jonathan Wolfe, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service at the Portland Airport.

“It was an atypical event. Usually we get rain or winds; in this storm, we got both,” reports Wolfe. “The first three days of the month, Southeast Portland got as much rain – about four inches within hours – as we typically see in a month.”

The downpour was caused by moisture coming in from Asian typhoons, riding the jet stream across the ocean into the Pacific Northwest, explains Wolfe.

By the time we arrive on December 3, Sargent’s Motorsports at 10207 S.E. Foster Rd. is closed – but that doesn’t stop drivers of high-riding trucks who insist on plowing through the water and causing more water to spill into the businesses along the highway.

Sargent’s Motorsports flooded … again
Even though S.E. Foster Road was still closed at SE 102nd Avenue, we snaked through the parking lot on the north side of the street on Dec. 4 to check in with Gary Sargent at Sargent’s Motorsports and see how his shop fared.

“Yesterday, we had two events,” begins Sargent. “First, the street filled up. About noon, the creek overflowed. And, it doesn’t help that morons driving jacked up trucks keep driving fast along (the closed off) Foster Road, sending waves of water into our place.”

Sargent says he’s had intermittent high-water problems since he purchased the property and building in 1988. “The previous owners told us they had a little water on the lot, and coming up to the building, when the street drains filled up.”

There are no storm sewers in outer East Portland, Sargent reminds us; rainwater runoff flows into drywells. “Dry sumps are holes in the ground; when they get filled up, the street floods.”

Gary Sargent says he has yet to tackle cleaning up this storage closet filled with soaked office supplies.

Blames City and ‘Freeway Land’ owners
“The City says they’re working on plans to slow down Johnson Creek,” continues Sargent as he and his workers stack up soaked office supplies and scrape the muck off the floor.

“But the Brookside project, on Johnson Creek at SE 111th, operates between 40 to 60 percent of its real capacity; the City will tell you so. They claim they’re going to dig channels (to absorb flood water) on other property they own across the street.”

Standing in his parts department, Sargent looks at motorcycle ignition switches and electrical systems he says were ruined by the floodwater.

He also blames the raised Springwater Trail not letting excess water flow north into the Beggar’s Tick Refuge.

“What I’d really like is for the City – or someone – to launch an investigation into the illegal land filling they did across the street at the ‘Freeway Land’ site,” he fumes. “It was once a pond, along the creek, that the sawmill used for floating logs. They filled it in and diverted the water.”

As the water recedes Sargent looks over his empty display lot and says he’ll hold a “waterlogged sale” to stimulate business.

Not all losses covered by flood insurance
They did get most of their inventory of motorcycles and ATVs on trailers or high ground at the back of his property, the business owner states.

However, although he has flood insurance, Sargent says it doesn’t reimburse him for his loss of sales during the holiday season – and repair work in the shop. “Our company has grown to eleven employees. FEMA doesn’t pay you for ‘down time’. I’ve lost thousands of dollars.”

At a meeting in early 2007, Marie Johnson, Bureau of Environmental Services, talks with a neighbor about the City’s East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project.

A history of flooding
To get answers about what the City of Portland is doing about Johnson Creek flooding, we speak with Marie Johnson, Johnson Creek Watershed Team, at the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES).

“There was a flood in the area in 2003,” Johnson begins. “Foster Road has some level of flooding about every two years. Because the terrain is so flat, less than a foot of water over flood stage will flood quite a large area.”

Asked about Brookside, Johnson responds, “We’re in the early design phase for the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project. One of the things we’re looking at how well Brookside Wetland works; and what kind of improvement might be made there.”

During the height of the rainstorm, the Springwater Trail – we’re looking south on SE 111th Avenue – restricts water flow, adding to the flooding problem.

Regarding flooding caused by the Springwater Trail, Johnson tells us, “it was built on a raised, 100-year-old railroad bed that bisects the wetlands. It hampers the flow of water. Any time water flow is restricted, it can get backed up.”

While the City is actively working to reduce flooding, Johnson adds, “A lot of the conditions affecting the Lents area are historic – going back thousands of years to the Missoula Flood that carved out the region.

Illegal landfill at Freeway Land confirmed
We look into Sargent’s allegation that the “Freeway Land” property was illegally filled. A topological map shows much of the land is higher than surrounding area.

Further, City officials confirm that previous owners of the Freeway Land site did, indeed, perform an “illegal fill”, and the current owners are working with Bureau of Development Services and other agencies regarding the situation.

City’s plan to fight floods
“BES is planning to make improvements in highly flood-prone areas,” Johnson informs us. “Our goal is to reduce private property damage from flooding during ‘nuisance’ floods, up to ’10-year’ floods.

This drawing illustrates where the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project will absorb water through a series of channels south of SE Foster Road, west of S.E. 108th Avenue.

“In East Lents, we are hoping to do the first phase of a multi-phase project. We secured $2.9 Million FEMA disaster prevention grant and matched it with $900,000 BES funding. It will have some benefit. Hopefully restoration on a portion of Freeway Land site will also help.”

“Will this cure the flooding problem?” we ask.
“It is impossible to totally prevent floods,” replies Johnson. “Each change is an incremental improvement. There are limitations to what we’re going to be able to achieve.”

For answers to questions regarding the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project, contact Marie Johnson at (503) 823-6199, or by e-mailing

In March, 2007 we reported about the kick off of the “East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project” and an Army Corps of Engineers project to help remediate Johnson Creek flooding. CLICK HERE to read the story.

And in an August, 2007 article we reported on the progress of the East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project. CLICK HERE see this story.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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