Crews to move Sandy River back to previous path, rebuild East Lolo Pass Road after Welches flooding

By Yuxing Zheng, The Oregonian

Clackamas County crews will begin today or tomorrow to route the Sandy River back to its previous path before its rampaging floodwaters earlier this week jumped the riverbanks, changing the course of the river and overrunning part of East Lolo Pass Road near Welches.

"They're going to move the river back to where it was before, and they're going to be working to establish a temporary road, at least a one-lane road," Dana Robinson, the county's emergency management director, told Clackamas County commissioners at their meeting this morning.

Officials from the county's roads department have obtained a written permit to re-establish Lolo Pass Road after meeting yesterday with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of State Lands, Robinson said.

Heavy rain and melting snowfall over the weekend caused serious flooding along the Sandy River that destroyed East Lolo Pass Road, stranding residents. The National Weather Service said that from 11 a.m. Saturday through 5 p.m. Sunday, 9.51 inches fell at Timberline Lodge.

A footpath was later established for residents to walk out, but vehicles still cannot access the road. The emphasis right now is to establish a temporary road, since it could take weeks and months before a permanent road can be rebuilt.

The flooding also caused an unknown amount of raw sewage to spill into the Sandy River near Welches for about 14 hours Sunday night into Monday.

"The most difficult situation we're facing right now is that we've got about 200 to 250 residents stranded right now on the other side of Lolo Pass Road," Robinson said.

Portland General Electric re-established some poles yesterday and hope to get power back up in the area by the end of the week, she said. PGE crews flew over the area yesterday to take aerial photos to assess the damage, Robinson said, and they're sharing the photos with the county's roads department. UPDATE: PGE restores power to 350 customers.

Clackamas County officials on Tuesday declared a state of emergency because of the flooding and subsequent damage.

"But the likelihood of getting individual assistance is very, very unlikely in this case," Robinson said. "It's not likely to meet the level of thresholds needed for individual assistance."

The county needs to have suffered at least an estimated $1.2 million in damages to its roads, bridges and other infrastructure to qualify. The state must also collectively suffer at least $6 million in damages from "the same weather event" to be considered for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, Robinson said.
That could happen if other counties also declare states of emergency. Tillamook County, for instance, has suffered flooding along Slab Creek and landslides on Oregon 6. Other coastal counties have also suffered through portions of U.S. 101 flooding or slumping.

No other Oregon county had declared a state of emergency as of yesterday, Robinson said, though the state has asked counties to submit initial damage assessment reports.

Robinson urged residents and business owners with power to report damages to their property by visiting the county website at
A newer bridge on Lolo Pass Road over the Zigzag River survived the floods but remains closed because the river eroded the ground beneath the south approach.

"While it looks like it is intact, the approach has been significantly damaged," Robinson said.

"It could fall, and it could sink," Chairwoman Lynn Peterson later said.

Clackamas County crews have decided on a design option to stabilize the approach but need to refine the design, hire contractors and obtain permits before proceeding with any work, said Ellen Rogalin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Development.

Info meeting on Welches flooding
What: Clackamas County officials will hold a public meeting to provide information and answer questions about the Welches flooding.
When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Welches Elementary School, 24901 E. Salmon River Road behind the Hoodland Fire District
Contact: Tim Heider, public affairs coordinator, 503-742-5911

-- Yuxing Zheng