Foster Road again flooded by Johnson Creek

The flooding shut down a family business there – again. Here’s the official word on why, after a $25 million project, the creek again spilled over its banks …

Even as Johnson Creek floodwater recedes, on the morning after it overflowed its banks, this segment of SE Foster Road in the Lents neighborhood remains closed to traffic.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Ever since the area was first developed, Johnson Creek has regularly overflowed its banks in heavy rain, flooding areas from its headwaters in Gresham to its confluence with the Willamette River.

A multi-year, $25 million project to mitigate “nuisance floods” – including the East Lents Restoration Project, especially one of the projects, the creation of the Foster Floodplain Natural Area, gave residents and neighbors hope that SE Foster Road flooding would be a thing of the past.

In fact, on October 10, 2011, City of Portland officials, contractors, and others, gathered to celebrate the completion of “Phase I” of this project. To see a story about this event, CLICK HERE.

And then, on April 25, 2013, United Nations officials, City of Portland leaders and neighbors gathered again to celebrate the completion of the entire project. To read our coverage, CLICK HERE.

Some motorists heed the “Street Closed” signs, put up by Portland Bureau of Transportation workers, along SE Foster Road. Many don’t.

For two years, even during heavy rainstorms, Johnson Creek did stay within its banks – until December 7, when SE Foster Road was again closed to traffic by high water, from SE 101st Avenue east to 111th Avenue.

“The purpose of Foster Floodplain Natural Area plan was implemented to minimize the impact of nuisance flooding,” reminded City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Johnson Creek Watershed Manager Maggie Skenderian.

“These were the floods that happened about every other year,” Skenderian told East Portland News.

“We had a ‘Seven Year [high water] Event’ in 2012, and the system worked as expected,” Skenderian said. “The event we had on Monday [December 7] met the all-time record for the height of Johnson Creek. It was similar to what happened during 1996.”

A truck brings supplies to the partially flooded Lents PGE Substation along SE Foster Road.

Pausing a moment to look up data for us, Skenderian reported that the water level at the historic “Sycamore Gage” measuring station in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood shot up to a “record reading” during the latest storm. “The water level rose 1.5 feet between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 7th.

“The water level crested at 15.33 feet,” Skenderian reported; “At the 15 foot level, 2,775 cubic feet per second is flowing in the creek. By December 11, four days later, the level subsided to less than 5 feet at the gauge, Skenderian added.

The morning after the flood, Sargent’s Motorsports was closed for business; the sandbags didn’t stop the rush of water from inundating their business.

Flooded out, again
The morning of the flood, Gary Sargent Sr., owner of family business Sargent’s Motorsports at 10207 SE Foster Road, said he had a “bad feeling” when the monsoon-like rainstorm moved in.

He suspected that soon, Johnson Creek would again spill over, flow like a river over the highway – and into his business.

Gary Sargent recalls a former mayor’s failed promise to “make them whole” in the event of another flood, as he sweeps muck out of their repair shop.

“When we saw the water coming, fortunately we had all of our staff here at the shop,” Sargent told East Portland News. “We all grabbed stuff and ran for high ground. But, the water came in so fast, the only thing we could get out quick enough were things that rolled – which is our motorcycles.”

By midday, Sargent said their business had three to four feet of water inside their showroom and shop.

Three days later, his crew was still working to salvage merchandise, and beginning the long clean-up operation – ripping out lower wall panels to let the studs dry, pressure-washing the walls and floors, and sweeping out debris.

The Sargent’s Motorsports crew has moved their salvageable tools and equipment outside the shop, while they clean inside the building.

“Almost everything we had on our shelves was submerged,” Sargent pointed out, looking around the showroom. “The Holiday season is usually one of our busiest times, with Christmas shopping – people buying gifts for their motorsports enthusiast family and friends.”

“So, the bottom line is, for the time being, it’s like we’re ‘out of business’,” Sargent added. “This means eleven people will be laid off, just before the Holidays.”

Inside and out, workers clean the remaining muck from around the flooded business.

Sargent recalled when, in 2009, then-Mayor Sam Adams visited him in his store, just after they recovered from a flood. “You were here [he reminded East Portland News] when former Mayor Sam Adams told me that he would ‘make us whole’. And, his staff did work on it. But later he told me that my business was ‘on the wrong side of the street’. He told me that they are spending $25 million on the south side of SE Foster Road, on the project to mitigate nuisance floods.”

However, Sargent continued, on Monday, “We were underwater within thirty minutes. So obviously, the $25 million spent on that project clearly did not mitigate the problem here.”

Called a ’20 Year Event’
By the end of the week, BES staff was still mapping the extent of the flooding, especially in the area of their mitigation projects, Skenderian said. “I’m quite certain that the magnitude of this record-breaking flood would have been much worse without the projects in place.

“We are told by the United States Geological Survey that this was a 20 to 25 year event,” Skenderian went on. “Many businesses along Foster Road have benefitted from the projects; many haven’t been affected by other, smaller floods that have come along since we’ve done the projects.”

Working to clear a massive debris jam on Johnson Creek at the 122nd Avenue bridge, near Leach Botanical Garden, crews use cranes and heavy power tools.

We asked: Can Johnson Creek overflows be totally prevented?

“For Johnson Creek to be completely contained during larger events, it would take a much larger investment and larger-scale projects to achieve higher levels of mitigation,” Skenderian responded.

All flood mitigation plans are scrutinized in terms of cost/benefit analysis, she said. “The optimal plan selected was for reducing the nuisance floods. To go beyond that, there needs to be a broader public discussion.”

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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