RAINIER — Rainier Mayor Jerry Cole said the city is “putting things back together” after declaring a state of emergency Tuesday in response to downtown flooding caused by Fox Creek.
The creek, which enters the city from the hills above downtown, backed up where it enters a culvert at C Street. Water poured across C Street and flowed downhill before rejoining the creek just west of the Grocery Outlet store, located between B and A streets.
The parking lot of Ark Real Estate, on B Street, was flooded until late Tuesday afternoon, said real estate broker Sarah Borders, but the office didn’t see water inside.
“I got a phone call at 7 a.m. (Tuesday) that there was water to our first step, so I got here as fast as I could,” Borders said. “I called a chain of other (businesses) ... we had sand bags down here at 10 a.m. but until then it was really just maintaining the debris in the runoff areas.”
Borders said most of the water in their parking lot had receded by 2 p.m., and the real estate office was open for businesses as usual Wednesday. But other stores along Columbia River Highway didn’t have the same luck.
Earth-N-Sun and Grocery Outlet were both closed Wednesday due to flood damage. Borders said she also observed Don Pedros restaurant and Rainier RV Center Inc. standing in water throughout Tuesday.
Rainier’s only large food store, Grocery Outlet, was in a direct path downhill from the creek overflow.
The store itself did not sustain any damage, but a portion of the parking lot near the entry doors was washed out where the property abuts the open section of Fox Creek, said Kyle Noble, a spokesman for the Bay-area based company.
The company is keeping the store closed indefinitely as a safety precaution until it can assess the damage, Noble said late Wednesday.
“Heavy rains have wreaked havoc on the surrounding landscape causing a flood adjacent to our store and damage to our parking lot,” Noble said in a prepared statement. “We are currently working to get the appropriate personnel in place to evaluate and make the necessary repairs and ensure the store is safe to reopen to the public.”
He did not have an estimate for when the store would reopen.
The chain has 320 locations in six states, with the majority of them in the West.
Mayor Cole acknowledged past flooding from Fox Creek, including a December 2015 sinkhole that opened up just behind Earth-N-Sun. A section of the 560-foot-long culvert that carries the creek underground between C Street and B Street (Highway 30) collapsed, causing water to geyser out of the pipe. Shortly after, the city spent about $275,000 replacing about 450 feet of the culvert.
Cole said the long-term solution will be to daylight the creek by digging up the aging culvert, which is just not big enough to handle the creek when it is swelled by heavy rains. The project has been discussed for years, and Cole said the city would need money from state or federal agencies to undertake. There’s no indication that anything will happen soon.
And there is no timeline for the project, Cole said.
“It’s a big project, it isn’t just going out there with a backhoe and digging it up,” Cole said, estimating the cost “in the millions.”
In the meantime, Cole said it’s too soon to tell how much damages will cost Rainier. Traffic moved as usual Wednesday after some downtown closures and diversions Tuesday afternoon. City crews still were cleaning up mud the floodwaters left behind.
“We want to try to help people get back to normalcy as quickly as possible,” Cole said.