25 January 2012 by Published in: News No comments yet

Winter Storms Continue to Bombard Northwest


A HEAVY SNOWFALL in the early morning hours of Jan. 18 created a serene setting in downtown Clatskanie. But the snow soon turned to rain which combined with high tides and snowmelt from the higher elevations caused minor flooding of the Clatskanie River over the weekend. Clatskanie Builders Supply owner Robert Keyser took the top photo of his building just before dawn on Jan. 18.                             Chief Photo (lower) by Amanda Gail Moravec

Winter Storms Continue to Bombard Northwest

by Adam J. Wehrley

One of the heaviest snowstorms in the past two decades hit northwest Oregon last week, falling trees, blocking roads and causing school closures.

By Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 24, flood watches and warnings of increased probability of landslides had been issued for northwest Oregon and southwest Washington, along with a high wind warning on the coast.

The Red Cross mobilized volunteers in Columbia, Clatsop, Lincoln, Tillamook,  Washington, Yamhill and Polk counties. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Red Cross was standing by with shelter teams if the Nehalem River began to rise to flood levels in Vernonia.

After snowfalls on Sunday and Monday, Jan. 15 and 16, a major storm hit the area beginning at about midnight Wednesday, Jan. 18, and continuing until about dawn, when the precipitation began to turn to rain.

Over two feet of snow accumulated at the summit of Highway 47 between Clatskanie and Mist, and 27 inches was reported in Vernonia.  About 18 inches were reported on some of the other hills in the Clatskanie and Rainier areas.

On the valley floor, Rick Palm of the City of Clatskanie public works crew reported one inch of snow on the ground for Jan. 15, one new inch on Jan. 16 bringing the total to 1.5 (with some melt-off during the day), and another new inch of snow, making 2.5 on the ground on the 17th.

Then four inches fell in downtown Clatskanie during the early morning hours Wednesday, bringing the total to 5.5 inches on the ground as measured at 8 a.m. on Jan. 18.

As the rains returned late last week and continued this week, the snow melt at all elevations made rivers and creeks rise, and brought the threat of floods and landslides.

Roads Cleared, Power Restored

Snow packed the streets as road crews, utility workers and fire departments spent Wednesday, Jan. 18, plowing streets, clearing fallen trees from power lines and rock slides from roads.

Columbia County road department workers logged long hours clearing roads and coordinating efforts with utility crews to open up access for crews to repair damaged lines.

According to county road department director Dave Hill, the county roads were closed in 25 different locations throughout the county. “The coordination between our crews, the 9-1-1 center and the utilities went very smoothly,” Hill said.

City of Clatskanie public works director Dave True reported that city crews sanded streets five or six times early last week and brought in Kynsi Construction to help with snow removal. The city ran a pump and hose to drain the downtown parking lot along NE Conyers Street.

“Other than downed trees in the right-of-ways,  there was nothing serious,” said True. “We were very lucky.”

Rainier interim city administrator Debra Dudley reported that the city was pleased that the recent purchase of a snow plow had allowed crews to clear roads. “The crew worked diligently to ensure the safety of the public.” Dudley said.

Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD) reported that four outages occurred the morning of Jan. 18 due to snow laden trees falling on lines. Several small isolated outages occurred Thursday.

The first outage happened in the Olson and Johnson roads area at 2:34 a.m. affecting 200 customers.

Around 3:09 a.m. a tree along Highway 30 fell into the lines west of Clatskanie, causing 371 customers in town to lose power.  Crews were able to reroute power and restore service at 5:30 a.m. to most customers.

A tree took down a wire on Woodson District Road around 4 a.m. and 70 customers lost power. All but one customer had power restored by 9:40 a.m.

A fourth outage on Ilmari Road affected 500 customers’ power. Rerouted service restored power for the majority of customers shortly after 9 a.m.

“The PUD wants to thank all of the customers for their patience during the restoration process and appreciated all of the kind words and praise received from the customers,” a PUD spokesperson said.

Columbia River PUD started responding to weather-related outages at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Throughout the district crews responded to 92 separate outages and 39 reports of trees in the lines. A total of 5,885 customers were affected, with power fully restored by 8 p.m. Thursday.

There were 21 incidents of power outages in the Columbia River PUD’s service area in rural Rainier and Goble, impacting 845 total customers.

The largest outage affected 194 customers in the Prescott and Lindberg areas near Rainier. It was caused by a tree falling through the lines on Highway 30 near Trojan park.

The Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD) received 12 snow-related calls Wednesday, Jan. 18, starting with a tree in a power line at 3:34 a.m. CRFPD personnel continued responding to tree and power line calls most of the day, battling snow covered roads, which impeded their responses.

Columbia River Fire and Rescue (CRFR) responded to dozens of downed power lines throughout the Rainier and St. Helens areas. No major weather-related injuries or collisions were reported in northern Columbia County.

Schools Closed After Long Weekend

Following the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, Jan. 16, Clatskanie, Rainier and Vernonia schools were closed on Tuesday and all Columbia County public schools were closed Wednesday. On Thursday, Jan. 19,  Rainier schools were delayed two hours, while Clatskanie remained closed.

Both the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts have announced that Monday, Feb. 20, previously scheduled as a President’s Day vacation, will now be used as a snow makeup day.

Rain and Wind Continue

The skies grew dark Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 24, as more rain storms approached and the National Weather Service issued flood and debris flow warnings for the lower Columbia River area and wind advisories for the Oregon coast.

The weather service advises that care should be taken when traveling over the mountains.

The most dangerous places include canyon bottoms, stream channels, and areas of rock and soil accumulation at the outlets of canyons; bases of steep hillsides; road cuts or other areas where slopes of hills have been excavated or over steepened; places where slides or debris flows have occurred in the past.

Debris flows can easily travel a mile or more, depending on the terrain, according to the National Weather Service. Debris flows transport boulders and logs in a fast-moving soil and water slurry.

Some areas are more hazardous than others when the danger of landslides is high. If there is a flood warning, stay away from rivers. Stay away from steep slopes during intense rainstorms.

Further precautionary measures given by the weather service include:

• Stay alert. Listen to the radio, TV or a weather radio for flood watches, which include the potential for debris flows.

• If told to evacuate, do so immediately.

• Listen for unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of falling mud or debris may precede larger landslides;

• If you think there is danger of a landslide, leave immediately.

• If water in a river or stream suddenly turns muddy or the amount of water flowing suddenly decreases or increases, this is a warning that the flow has been affected upstream. You should immediately leave the area because a debris flow may soon be coming downstream;

• Be alert when driving, especially at night. Don’t overdrive your headlights.  Embankments along roadsides may fail, sending rock and debris onto the road;

• Landowners and road managers should check road drainage systems and conduct needed maintenance in case the predicted heavy precipitation does occur.

• Cleaning up after landslides can also be hazardous. “When it is wet outside, be careful when cleaning up the mess. A small mudslide can actually be part of a larger landslide. Cleanup should not be done until after the storm.


Ballots Due Back in Special Congressional Election

Ballots are due back Tuesday, Jan. 31, in the special election to fill the vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives from Oregon’s First Congressional District.

Columbia and Clatsop counties, as well as Washington, Yamhill, and a portion of Multnomah County are included in the district.

Four candidates are on the ballot, Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat; Rob Cornilles, a Republican; James Foster, a Libertarian, and Steven Reynolds, a member of the Progressive party. Polls are showing the race fairly close between Bonamici and Cornilles.

They are vying to serve the remainder of the two-year term to which former Congressman David Wu was elected in November of 2010. Wu  resigned in August in the wake of scandals.

Public certification tests of the ballot counting equipment in Columbia and Clatsop counties were conducted on  Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Ballots may be returned by mail or may be left at various drop sites throughout Columbia and Clatsop counties.

Since postmarks don’t count, it is suggested that those who have not mailed their ballots by now, use one of the drop sites including the Clatskanie Library, Rainier City Hall, Vernonia Library, Scappoose City Hall, the Mist-Birkenfeld Rural Fire Protection District main station, Knappa High School, and the city halls in Cannon Beach, Seaside, Warrenton and Gearhart. Ballots may be dropped off during regular hours, and until 8 p.m. on election day.

Ballots may also be dropped off at the Columbia County Courthouse, 930 Strand Street in St. Helens, Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day. Additionally, a drive-by drop box is located in the lower parking lot of the courthouse.

The Clatsop County clerk’s office, where ballots may also be dropped off, is located at 820 Exchange Street in Astoria. There is also a 24-hour drop box in front of the building.


Highway 30 “Safety Working Group” Meets Thursday in Clatskanie

A group of state and local officials, business leaders and citizens developing recommendations for improving safety along a 56-mile section of U.S. Highway 30 will meet Thursday, Jan. 26, in Clatskanie.

The 17-member Safety Working Group, co-chaired by Senator Betsy Johnson and Columbia County Commissioner Earl Fisher, will meet from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Clatskanie River Inn, 600 E. Columbia River Highway.

At the meeting, Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) traffic consultant, Kittelson and Associates, will present findings from a road safety audit conducted along Highway 30.

Data was collected between Butterfield Road (milepost 35.7) and Neer Creek Road (milepost 41.1) and from Carlson Road (milepost 57.2) to Lindberg Road (milepost 60.3).

ODOT uses road safety audits to identify and prioritize transportation safety concerns and recommend solutions.

For more information and to view the road safety audit reports visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION1/US30_Safety/index.shtml.


Coal Operations on Port Board Agenda Jan. 25

The Port of St. Helens commission was set to meet in Clatskanie Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 5 p.m. in the Community Education Center, 555 SW Bryant Street.

On the agenda of the public meeting were presentations by two companies with proposals to locate coal transloading operations at the Port Westward industrial  park near Clatskanie.

As reported in detail in last week’s Chief, a presentation was scheduled from Kinder Morgan Terminals, LLC for a proposal to rail, store and load coal to and from Port Westward. The other company, Pacific Transloading LLC, was expected to make a proposal to receive coal via barge for a transloading operation at Port Westward.


Rainier City Council Moves Toward Filling Open Seats

by Adam J. Wehrley

Continuing in their process  to fill two vacant spots on the Rainier City Council, councilors named volunteers to a selection committee at their business meeting Monday evening, Jan. 23.

The council spent time hashing out the details of the selection committee, ultimately appointing 10 volunteers from the community and Councilors William Vilardi and Scott Cooper.

The committee will narrow the pool of candidates for the city council vacancies to four, and the council will make the final decision.

Currently 11 Rainier residents have applied for the two positions made vacant by the recent recall of Councilors Russ Moon and David Langford. Applying for the council seats are Michal Miller, David Hill, Michael Kreger, David Sills, James Bradfield, Brian Abel, Diana Heston, Robert Piercy, Jeremy Howell, LaNita Hetland and Eugene Murphy.

Candidate applications are due at city hall on Jan. 30. Due to the size of the candidate pool and the possibility of more applications, the board decided that it would be impractical to conduct all the interviews in a single work session.

Interim city administrator Debra Dudley was assigned the task of coordinating with volunteer selection committee members to set a time for the interviews.

After working out the selection process, Mayor Cole made the suggestion that the appointments be made until the next general election, rather than the full terms of the two recalled councilors.

The council and Dudley agreed that the city charter allowed the council to set the term of the appointments.

The council unanimously passed the changes and further details added to the selection process.

Citizen Concerned About Snow Plow Use

During the visitors’ comments portion of the meeting, Rainier resident Al Guist expressed concerns that the city’s new snow plow had been used several miles outside the city limits, where it had gotten stuck and had to be towed at the city’s expense.

Mayor Cole and Councilor Sloan Nelson assured Guist that they were aware of the situation and were in the process of dealing with it.

The plow, which had recently been purchased, was reportedly being used to plow Walker Road approximately eight miles outside the city limits, when it got stuck in the snow. A tow truck was called to pull the plow out. The incident occurred on the afternoon of Jan. 18, after much of the snow had been cleared from city streets.

Recycling Proposal

Jason Kirschenmann of Hudson Garbage Service presented a proposal to the council regarding recycling services. Under the proposal recycling bins would be issued to Rainier residents who receive garbage service. Recycling would be picked up bi-weekly.

The cost of the added service would be approximately $4 per customer per month for residential customers. The service would be part of a bundled program for all residents who have garbage pick up.

Kirschenmann stated that many customers will save money by reducing the amount of garbage they have picked up at the higher per can rate, compared to the recycling rate.

Councilor Nelson, who had not been pleased with the costs involved in a previous recycling proposal from Hudson, expressed that he was much more in favor of the current one.

Councilor Cooper moved that the council proceed with the recycling proposal. Hudson Garbage Service was asked to make a full proposal which would be voted on in May, with a target date of July for starting the service.

Consultant Presentation, Planning Commission 

Appointments, Reports

Caryn Tilton of Caryn Tilton Consulting LLC, presented a proposal for consulting services for the council’s strategic planning process. Tilton reported that about 60 percent of her work involves consulting with local governments. She works with Oregon League of Cities and other organizations for elected officials.

Mayor Cole suggested that any decision regarding Tilton’s services be postponed until after the vacant council positions are filled.

The board reappointed four members of the planning commission whose terms ended this month. They are Mike Kreger, Steve Massey, Mike Leiker and Steve Hov.

In her report to the board, Dudley said that the city website had been updated and residents may now pay utility bills online. She said that the city had received positive feedback on the changes.

Councilor Nelson said that he had met with officials from Portland and Western Railroad. The railroad assured Nelson that they would no longer allow their trains to stop in town. Nelson’s concern was that stopped trains not only impede traffic in the A Street area, but also pose a danger to residents who attempt to pass between the parked train cars.

Nelson also had met with representatives from Friends of Fox Creek and the Boy Scouts, regarding damage beavers are doing to trees planted along Fox Creek. The groups plan to install caging to protect the trees.

Referring to last week’s announcement of proposed coal transloading operations at Port Westward, Nelson expressed concern over possible negative impacts of increased railroad traffic.

At the end of the meeting the council held a closed executive session to discuss personnel issues and pending litigation.

REDCO Hears Land Proposal

Prior to the council’s business meeting, the councilors met in their role as the Rainier Economic Development Council (REDCO), hearing a presentation by David Devine, a broker representing a client who holds a note on nearly 21 acres in west Rainier near the Lewis and Clark Bridge. The note on the land is being marketed for commercial development at $800,000.

REDCO did not express interest in purchasing the note, but Mayor Cole suggested the possibility that Devine approach the Port of St. Helens, which owns other properties in north Columbia County including the recently-acquired Community Education Center in Clatskanie and the Port Westward industrial park.

REDCO set this year’s regular business times at 6 p.m. every third Monday

A resolution was passed to continue using The Clatskanie Chief as the newpaper of record.

The possibility of moving REDCO’s files and offices from a rented space to city hall was discussed.

REDCO met in executive session to discuss litigation.


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