‘Worst damage they have seen in years’

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

November 11, 2006

Damage from heavy rainfall this past week has left its mark on Hood River County.

Logs jam the waters at the Port of Hood River and boulders lay spread like a giant’s toys across Highway 35.

U.S. Forest Service Forester Doug Jones lives near Wapinitia and commutes to Mount Hood for his job. But not now.

“I can’t get through so I’m at the White River station,” he said.

Jones is also an avid photographer and sent in several photos to the Hood River News showing parts of Highway 35 undercut, gone, or covered with rock.

As of Thursday morning, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Smolt said travel on Highway 35 one-quarter mile south of Baseline Road is limited to one lane traffic as the Hood River has undercut part of that stretch.

Several creeks have shifted course, among them, Clark Creek and Newton Creek. Several of the area Sno-parks, including White River West and Boy Scout, are completely covered in rock.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has closed the stretch of highway from milepost 61.71 at Baseline Drive to 80.08, at U.S. Highway 26, indefinitely. Crews have not been able to complete an assessment of how bad the situation is due to safety concerns.

“The guys up there can still hear boulders rumbling down … it’s still a very active situation,” said Shawn Uhlman, ODOT public information officer.

He toured the site Wednesday — or what he could get to from the north side of Mount Hood. While maintenance crews have been clearing boulders, Uhlman said it’s far from knowing how much it will cost to repair the road or when it will re-open.

“In talking with many of the veteran maintenance group, they say it’s the worst damage they have seen in many years,” he said.

Uhlman wouldn’t even estimate how many miles of roadway have been wiped out, only saying that huge rocks, sand, and debris have impacted several miles of Highway 35.

“It’s not just one or two places,” he said.

The closure also impacts Mt. Hood Meadows, which was due to open for its ski season once the snow flies. (See related story.) Smolt emphasized that incorrect information was given out on a TV news broadcast Wednesday night that employees could use Forest Service Road 48 to access a planned orientation; but the road is closed.

“If people think they can take their personal rigs up there to get through, that is not going to happen,” she said.

She said the Forest Service and ODOT plan to fly over the mountain on Thursday to assess the changes.

“It’s (stream changes) still a very dynamic situation,” she said. “With the White River and Clark, well the mountain does what it wants to do.”

Rep. Greg Walden plans to tour the area Thursday morning with state officials to assess the damage. Closures by the Hood River Ranger District of several Forest Service roads remain in effect although the closure of Road 18 from Zigzag to Dee has been lifted.

At the other end of the county, port officials have contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about what can be done with logs and debris left by the storm’s wake.

“I would say it’s a record amount of logs this early in the season,” said Mike Doke, the port’s marketing director.

He said it’s still early in the winter season and wood and debris generally collect along the shore each winter.

“We can’t get the cruise ship in here but we have a backup cruise dock in the marina,” he said.

The cruise ship dock is blocked by debris in the river. Linda Hull, the port’s administrative assistant, also handles coordinating arrangements with cruise ships that traverse the Columbia River. She said “Seabird”, a small vessel owned by Lindblad Expeditions, had to go to Cascade Locks on Tuesday to load its passengers.

“That was its last scheduled trip until the spring,” Hull said.

However, the “Queen of the West” sternwheeler has two more Sunday visits scheduled to Hood River for the season. Hull said while she has not received confirmation yet from the company, she believes they will not be coming to Hood River.

“They are too large to fit in the marina but may go to Stevenson or The Dalles instead,” she said.

The Corps confirmed that it was assessing the situation at the request of the port but in general, debris is the responsibility of the state or local authorities. Public Affairs officer Matt Rabe said the agency’s concern is with the navigability of the commercial channel in the Columbia River.

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