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Willing Sellers help restore Johnson Creek floodplain

For years, a City of Portland floodplain restoration project has sought to reduce nuisance floods, and especially 100-year-floods, along Johnson Creek – by turning privately-owned degraded stream-bank property into publically-owned natural areas.

Often, the floodplain restoration program has been facilitated by the “Willing Seller Land Acquisition Program”, whereby the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) purchases, at fair market value, creekside houses and other property, and then demolishes the houses and re-grades and recreates steep stream banks into wide vegetated slopes.

“Over the course of fifteen years, we took sixty houses out of East Lents and created a lot of flood storage,” reports the Johnson Creek Watershed Manager at City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Maggie Skenderian. Those thirty acres of flood storage is located south of S.E. Foster Road between 106th Avenue and 110th Drive. “We're just finishing that up,” she adds.

Currently, Powell Butte – where Kelly Creek meets Johnson Creek – and Tideman Johnson Natural Area, between Eastmoreland and Ardenwald, around the confluence of Johnson and Errol Creeks, are among sites targeted by the Johnson Creek floodplain restoration program.

According to the BES website – www.portlandonline.com/bes – the “Willing Seller Land Acquisition Program” also purchased three residential properties around S.E. 45th Avenue and Harney Street. “We’ve purchased most of what we’re interested in there,” Skenderian says – adding, however, that the floodplain project would benefit if a couple of additional properties could be acquired.

Floodplain restoration ultimately reduces the risk of widespread damage when a flood occurs. It can also reduce the price of flood insurance for property owners nearby. Currently, 4,042 acres of Portland’s 100-year floodplain are in public ownership, according to Environmental Specialist Ali Young, at BES.

As a result of Portland’s high flood storage ranking under the federal disaster agency FEMA’s national Community Rating System, Skenderian says some Portland property owners with flood insurance may be eligible for a 25-percent discount on their policies. That doesn’t guarantee that property owners in 100-year flood plains aren’t at risk when the next flood swamps the area, though. “We keep saying over and over that nature will have its way,” Skenderian says.

According to the BES website, years of restoration of the historic floodplain along Johnson Creek have reduced flooding on S.E. Foster Road and other areas, while it has recreated stream channels, shaded the creek, and improved both wildlife habitat and water quality.