Flood of '48 waterlogged region

A headline from a 1948 Clatskanie Chief issue highlights flood damage in the northern areas of Columbia County.

The Rainier City Council was asked again this past month to fund the local drainage district that faces a budget shortfall of $172, 966 for levee recertification. City officials denied a request for funds this past May.

In a May council work session, Rainier Drainage Improvement Company (RDIC) Secretary Terry Deaton requested $100,000 to $150,000 from city officials to fund the recertification. Deaton said the project was necessary to protect the area from floods. Nearly five miles long, the levee extends from the Teevin Bros. lumber yard to Dibblee Beach, with around a mile of it running in city limits.

City officials received a letter in early October from the RDIC detailing a request for financial commitment to support Phase 2 of the Rainier levee recertification project, including supporting citizens’ signatures and photos from a 1948 flood that swamped area homes. The letter noted secured Business Oregon grants totaling $100,000 towards Phase 2.

The letter stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had authorized Phase 2, giving a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, for work to be completed. RDIC sought the use of Army engineers rather than costlier private firms to recertify the levee through the National Resources Conservation Services, a federal agency.

“RDIC has been the only financial provider for the Rainier levee recertification to date,” the letter read. “RDIC funds have been exhausted due [to] this financial investment in the future of Rainier.”

An Oct. 31 deadline for written commitments from Rainier, Rainier Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), Columbia County and the Port has already come and gone. Phase 2 is expected to take more than a year to complete, and RDIC said the Corps and a drainage analysis firm must begin work as soon as possible.

Rainier Mayor Jerry Cole read a prepared statement to RDIC representatives who attended the October 15 council meeting, saying that in partnering with the diking district, the City had requested budgetary and operating specifics that were not yet received.

Cole proposed committing $50,000 to the diking district, provided that the documentation of the need and planned usage as well as fiscal sustainability for the agency was produced. He said he could not advocate funding a project without assurance it would be properly maintained after completion. Cole urged the diking district to seek additional funds from county government, the Port of Columbia County and Rainier-area businesses.

A spokesperson for the diking district said without improvements and certification, the City would not be able to develop its portion of the land for industrial or commercial purposes, and established operations might pack up and leave. Another spokesperson suggested in addition to City funds, perhaps REDCO could be a funding source.

“The way I look at it, you’ve got $50,000 – you need to beat the streets for another $125,000,” Cole said. “I don’t think the City should be responsible for all of it.”

Councilor Sloan Nelson said there was tremendous value for Rainier in the diking district, suggesting collaboration with the Columbia County Board of Commissioners in seeking funding.

“If the City wants to grow and have industry, we have to make sure we protect that asset,” Nelson said. He added that the lack of infrastructure such as sewer puts limits on the opportunities for growth in the diking district, also disclosing that he owns property in the area and therefore not wanting to “speak too loudly” on the subject.

“I will say that as somebody who cares about the community and wants to see us prosper in the future, I think that we have to collaboratively figure out a way to make that work,” Nelson said.

From the audience, Commissioner Margaret Magruder said there had been requests from all 15 drainage districts in the county, each wanting $50,000 to address issues, a difficult amount to budget, Magruder said.

Cole said the $50,000 figure from the City could potentially increase once the RDIC had explored other funding sources, either successfully nor not. He said he could not support fully funding the $172,966 shortfall before exhausting the options.

Columbia County Economic Team Executive Director Chuck Daughtry was also in the council meeting audience. He said the property was valuable for economic development, calling it the future of Rainier, and adding that the $50,000 from the City would be helpful in finding more financial support for the recertification.

Daughtry also cited development on either end of the county and advised that growth would seep into Rainier from the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center and Port Westward, which will put developable Rainier-area property at a premium.

Reviving a past idea, Cole suggested directing all potential tax revenue to the recertification project if Rightline Equipment, a forklift attachment manufacturer just outside the city, were to annex into the city limits. Cole said the manufacturer pays no city taxes and are only billed for utilities due to what he called a “sweethearts deal” that was made in the 1980s.

The council passed a motion to contribute $50,000 to the next phase of the levee recertification project if the requested documentation was provided. The motion was passed unanimously, though Nelson abstained from the vote due his conflict of interest.

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