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The bridging of Beaverton Creek

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The slow moving water from Beaverton Creek travels under the new bridge on Southwest Westgate Drive.Almost any day of the year, Beaverton Creek resembles a harmless ditch as it passes almost invisibly through the heart of the city.

But Mark Boguslawski, an engineer in Beaverton's Public Works department, has a file loaded with photos that serve as a vivid reminder of just how fast the creek can rise and how much it might spill over its banks and flood the city center.

Boguslawski and fellow engineers already have worked to help make sure that the kind of flooding that blanketed the area in muddy water back in 1996 doesn’t return. Or at least not often.

“We’ve known about this (flooding problem) for a very long time,” Boguslawski said this week, the same day the city dedicated a new section of roadway that includes the flood-resistant Westgate Drive bridge, which was rebuilt four feet higher over the creek just north of The Round. “We’ve been coordinating this for a while.”

Also this week, another city contractor began work to rebuild the nearby Southwest Hocken Avenue bridge so it’s another 7 feet over Beaverton Creek. The $3 million, 14-month project will require closure of Hocken beginning June 1.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Bulldozers move ground to raise the foundation of where McDonalds will be rebuilt on the corner of the Southwest Hall and Cedar Hills boulevards.

Eventually — probably a decade in the future — the city also will rebuild the bridge over Cedar Hills Boulevard to lift the roadway farther out of the creek’s path. City officials also hope to one day punch additional culverts beneath the light rail bridge that stretches over the creek near Murray Boulevard to improve drainage, but such projects are expensive.

The city already scoured out the creek channel between Cedar Hills and Hocken to add capacity, and plans to make additional improvements along the banks just above Hall Boulevard. Additional stormwater management projects will be built to help keep the creek out of businesses and homes.

“We’ve done some really fantastic work to make sure flooding doesn’t occur,” Boguslawski said.

“We’ve seen the difference,” agreed Jim Brink, a city engineer working on bridge projects.

Private property owners also are trying to get out of the way of Beaverton Creek.

The franchise owner of the McDonald’s at Cedar Hills and Hall boulevards is currently rebuilding the restaurant at a higher elevation. The intersection has flooded several times through the years, including twice in 1996. Across the street, the electrical wiring already has been lifted to the top of the current Starbucks building to make it more flood-resistant.

Beaverton Creek was built to flood

Beaverton Creek flows out of the hills to the east, joining with Hall and Wessenger creeks near the present-day Beaverton Transit Center.

When homesteaders began arriving, they found a marshy stream dotted with beaver dams. Newly arrived farmers dug a ditch to drain the creek bottom and started planting, including the now-renowned horseradishes that launched Beaverton Foods.

The railroad built a station and the city of Beaverton grew up around it. Homes and businesses built up along the creek, which mostly stayed hidden in trees and buried in blackberry brambles. Ducks paddle in the slow-moving stream, invasive nutria munch on streamside plants and beavers occasionally take down a tree.

Today, Beaverton Creek and parts of its tributaries upstream from the transit center often flow through pipes buried beneath parking lots and developments, making only infrequent appearances in daylighted ditches. All that pavement only makes the flooding worse, as heavy rains drain quickly into the stream rather than soaking into the ground.

In spots, the creek and its banks are full of litter, discarded shopping carts and invasive plants, but city officials want to take better care of it where it passes through the Creekside District, the city’s downtown core.

Officials are planning a streamside trail from the transit center to Westgate Avenue near The Round, with right-of-way acquisition efforts lasting into next year and, if more funding is secured, construction starting in 2017. Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District has its own trail plans farther downstream.

While they work, city employees must do their part to keep the stream accessible to fish, even though none have seen the native trout and salmon that likely called the creek home before dense urban development arrived. Boguslawsky did find a nonnative catfish deep underground in a tunnel that carries Beaverton Creek under shopping centers, but that’s a species that can tolerate warm and dirty water.

“We have to act like (native fish) could be there and do everything we can to make it possible for them to be there,” Brink said.

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