Fox Creek culvert

The culvert runs under Highway 30 in Rainier in this 2016 Daily News file photo. Pumps were used to divert water so divers could inspect the pipe.

RAINIER — With winter approaching, property owners along Fox Creek are anxious that the city is not doing enough to solve the chronic flooding problem relating to an undersized culvert.

“I just have concerns about another flood happening,” Taylor Elliott, owner of Grocery Outlet, said at a gathering at Monday’s Rainier City Council meeting. “I’m still making payments on damage that was done to my store last year, and I’m just looking for assurances that it won’t happen again.”

However, Mayor Jerry Cole said Monday that the culvert that carries the creek through the downtown area and under Highway 30 runs through private land, restricting the city’s ability to act.

The creek has flooded three times in the recent years — most recently in February — damaging adjacent properties. The 500-foot long culvert, which carries the creek under C Street and Highway 30, backs up in heavy rains, causing floodwaters to wash across the properties of an RV Center, Riverside Church, Grocery Outlet, a restaurant and the highway itself.

“I don’t know who can make something happen, but for all that you guys can do, we’re asking that you get on it,” Riverside Church Pastor Paul Rice told the council. “Our building can’t flood too many more times without having to stick several hundred thousand into it. ... We don’t have that kind of money at all.”

In a letter sent to the council before the meeting, Rainier resident Terry Deaton wrote that “after three major floods on Highway 30 and C Street in Rainier in a few short years, we cannot afford to move into winter without a resolution to Fox Creek.”

The letter outlines a series of steps identified at a June 20th meeting with city representatives, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, County Commissioner Margaret Magruder, the soil and water conservation district and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

According to the letter, all parties had agreed to those steps, which included having a city engineer prepare a draft plan to solve the problem, for the city and ODFW to develop joint correspondence with private property owners and for the city to hold a meeting in September. (One of the possible solutions is to “daylight” the creek and create a natural, open channel. That’s been done on other parts of the creek.)

Deaton and the rest of the group said in the letter that the city had failed to follow through on those steps.

“Fox Creek runs right through the city, and all the water supply is at the top of Fox Creek,” Deaton said Tuesday. “There is a responsibility, even though they don’t want to address it directly.”

Cole disputed those facts, saying the meeting led to no ironclad agreement. In addition, he said, the city is willing to be a partner to fix the problem, but the culvert was originally a private project, and the land it crosses is private. Even when the culvert was replaced several years ago, Cole said the soil and water conservation district was in charge of the project.

“We championed it and put the people together at a table, but technically speaking the city didn’t do it,” Cole said. “We contributed funds.”

He said the only areas the city could do a public project would be on the sewer line right of way near the culvert, and on C Street.

“Public municipalities aren’t in the business of going onto private property and doing projects,” Cole said. “But if I could just wave a magic wand and have a blank checkbook, I would just say here’s ... some money to go open it up and make it good.”

Cole also addressed a misconception that the culvert had been replaced with a smaller pipe. He told the property owners that the culvert has not changed in size, as the grant required an exact replacement.

He also said the city had been trying to hire an engineer to do a draft plan and work with other agencies but had been hitting roadblocks. It would cost $85,000 just to hire an engineer, he said, and other agencies have been slow to participate in the process, Cole added. (The conservation service, for example, has pulled out of the effort, he said.)

However, the city did recently pay several thousand dollars to install an alarm system in the culvert so the city could alert landowners to impending floods, and it also removed a beaver from the creek. Cole told assembled property owners that the city is testing the alarm system and had planned to reach out to property owners soon to see if they want to be added to the notification list.

Instead, a sign-up sheet was passed around the room, allowing owners to decide if they wanted to receive a pre-alert or flood imminent alert, or both, by text, phone or email.

Darrel Whipple, who is part of the Friends of Fox Creek group, argued for more urgency.

“We really need to get on top of this two months ago,” Whipple told the council. “I can sense from your expressions that you sympathize with that effort, but it has to be made a priority.”

Deaton said the full council now seems to be aware of the problem.

“I’m very hopeful now that the council is aware that they will act in good faith to work with agencies and address this, and get it taken care of,” Deaton said Tuesday.

All parties agreed to hold another meeting, and Cole reassured the group that the city wants to be part of the solution.

“From the very beginning we said we want to be a partner ... We have always been at the table,” Cole said.

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