The City of Rainier and property owners along Fox Creek are still looking for solutions regarding ongoing flooding issues resulting from problems with the Fox Creek culvert system. The creek runs adjacent to Highway 30 and has often flooded homes and businesses in the area due to an undersized culvert.
Greg Greer, owner of Rainier R-V Center, Inc. said his business has been flooded in the past, and it has been costly.
“We’ve had up to 18 inches of water in the building, you can imagine what kind of cleanup comes from that,” Greer said.
Rainier R-V Center has had floor problems as a result of flooding and the business has experienced time loss as a result of cleanup, according to Greer.
At a meeting that took place on June 20 at Rainier City Hall, state, city and county representatives, as well as Rainier residents and business owners decided on a list of next steps towards repair of the Fox Creek culvert system.
Specific steps for the City of Rainier were to have the city engineer prepare a scope of work to be reviewed by state and federal agencies, develop correspondence in conjunction with ODFW to private property owners and convene an additional meeting in September with city residents.
“To date, the City of Rainier has not followed through on any of these agreements,” Rainier resident Terry Deaton wrote in a Nov. 8 email to The Chief.
Rainier Mayor Jerry Cole said the city has taken a few steps so far, as both a scope of work and an additional public meeting are in the works.
“We were hoping to get that [scope of work] done in September. It’s currently on the table, we’re working on it,” Cole said.
There will also be an additional workshop in December for stakeholders, and Cole said the city is hoping it will take place in the first week of the month.
Cole also said fixing the problem is complicated.
“The one thing you have to remember with Fox Creek is probably 90 percent of Fox Creek is on private property,” Cole said.
The 500-foot culvert that carries the creek runs through a large portion of property owned by homes and businesses, and the portion the city owns is a small section on C Street as well as a sewer line at the end of the culvert.
“Can we abate the C Street portion? Yeah. Can we come and fix the sewer line portion? Yeah. But when you’re talking about private property, how does a public entity go in?” Cole said. “We’d want it to be part of the overall project, not just do one portion and not the rest. We want to be a partner in our own project.”
For Fox Creek flooding solutions, Cole pointed to the Columbia Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), which assisted the city after a sinkhole opened in Rainier in 2015. Cole said the SWCD is the party with the expertise to fix the culvert system.
Nathan Herr, Interim District Manager for SWCD said the organization’s hands are tied when it comes to fixing the culvert system.
“For the SWCD, 90 percent of our funds are grant-funded. If we don’t have money to work on a project, we can’t really work on a project,” Herr said.
SWCD was able to partner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in December of 2015, which was able to open Emergency Water Protection (EWP) funds for SWCD after severe flooding happened and helped identify projects that needed to be fixed, Herr explained.
Fox Creek was one of those projects.
The project involved SWCD signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the City of Rainier, identifying short-term and long-term agreements, according to Herr. The short-term included focusing on the sinkhole, and the long-term agreement was to fill the sinkhole and replace any pipe that needs to be replaced in order to stop the sinkhole from happening.
“That’s the only way the EWP funds work, we can’t make things better, we can only fix things in an emergency,” Herr said.
While a long-term solution may be distant, for now, the city has focused on short-term solutions, like installing an alarm system that alerts residents and businesses if water gets to a certain level, Cole said. According to Cole, the alarm system cost about $3,000 to install, and was done after the June 20 meeting.
Cole said the culvert was not placed by either the city or the state, but by a private property owner in the 1950s before permitting was required. Cole said finding solutions will require partnering with multiple entities.
“We don’t own that waterway. We see it as a partnership. We want to work with the conservation district, maybe FEMA, property owners, we don’t know. That’s why we’re calling people to the table,” Cole said.