Bull Run community braces for bridge closures
'We are ... marooned,' says CPO leader
Many residents of the Bull Run community live there because they enjoy the tranquility and separateness of rural living. Their separateness is their strength - their independence, their incentive.
But upcoming temporary closures of the Bull Run Bridge show that the community's isolation can leave it vulnerable.
From 8 a.m. Friday, April 25, to 8 a.m. Saturday, April 26, Clackamas County will close the bridge to all vehicle travel to repair a rusted, deteriorating steel beam on the underbelly of the bridge.
The estimated 350 to 400 residents living on the north side of the bridge essentially will be cut off from the Sandy area and will have to travel through Aims and Troutdale to reach the Metro area - about a 30-minute drive.
'That bridge is our one and only link to the city of Sandy and the services there,' said Roger Bell, Bull Run Community Planning Organization president, who lives on the north side of the bridge. Those services include schools, commerce and, most important to residents of Bull Run, public safety and emergency response.
While a one-day closure isn't a big concern to most of the people on the north side of the bridge, Clackamas County's promise of a longer closure this summer - perhaps as long as a month - gives them the jitters.
'We are, in fact marooned,' Bell said. 'Whose fault is that? No one's. The bridge is the bridge, and from time to time it needs work. We understand that. However, what we expect is to see some appropriate planning that is comprehensive enough to meet our needs.'
During the century-old bridge's biannual check-up last month, inspectors found the corroding steel beam at the bottom of the bridge.
'It had deteriorated far enough that we needed to make some repairs to it,' said Darrel Burnum, county bridge maintenance supervisor. 'We're doing maintenance to keep it up to full capacity.'
During this weekend's 24-hour closure, work crews will remove and rebuild a steel beam that allows the bridge to continue to carry heavy loads.
While the bridge will be closed to all motorized vehicles, it will remain open for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project won't conflict with schools because April 25 is a school holiday.
Overall, it will be something of a non-issue for Bull Run-area residents, but for Clackamas County and Sandy Fire, it will be a critical dress rehearsal for the longer closure this summer.
Inspectors were surprised to discover that some of the concrete driving surface on the bridge is deteriorating.
To completely remove and replace the problem spots and allow the new concrete to cure properly, the bridge will be completely closed - no pedestrians, no cars, no bikes - for approximately four weeks. The timeline and the scope of the project has not yet been developed, Burnum said.
'We know that work needs to be done,' Burnum said. 'We're not sure how bad it is yet; we're still scoping out the project.'
The bridge once served as a segment of the Burnside Bridge that crossed the Willamette River in Portland 100 years ago. The county last closed it for maintenance 14 years ago.
'If we don't do the maintenance, we'd end up closing the bridge,' Burnum said. 'We're not closing it to aggravate people; we're trying to keep the bridge safe and serviceable for many more years.'
'I'm glad the county is taking a critical look at the bridge, which is such a vital link for us, doing what they need to do to keep it viable,' Bell said.
More than inconvenient
The closures will make Bell's commute quite a bit longer. Bell, an employee of the U.S. Forest Service who works out of the Mount Hood National Forest headquarters in Sandy, will drive almost an hour to work during the month-long closure instead of the 20-minute drive he faces today.
But he's not miffed.
'Can I live with that for a month in order to have a bridge that has a higher likelihood of being safe? I think so,' he said. 'The benefits we get from having a better bridge are certainly worth the inconvenience of additional gas.'
No, his commute isn't the issue - Sandy Fire's commute is.
'The critical thing for us is, is there going to be adequate preparation so they can deliver emergency services in a way that's responsible?' Bell asked.
Without other plans, it would take upwards of 45 minutes to take the long way around, using the Stark Street Bridge on the Sandy River near Troutdale.
'For first responders, that's unacceptable,' said Phil Schneider, Sandy Fire deputy chief.
Officials from Clackamas County, Sandy Fire, Corbett Fire, Gresham Fire, the Portland Water Bureau and the Clackamas and Multnomah American Medical Response (ambulance) services gathered last week to discuss possible plans to give the Bull Run area adequate coverage during the closures.
'We're pretty much on the same page,' Schneider said of the various agencies. 'I felt like everyone was concerned about the situation and is willing to do whatever we need to do to make this work.'
Out of that meeting, public safety officials hashed out a plan for the one-day closure, which Schneider says is a dress rehearsal for the longer closure expected in August.
From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., a firefighter/paramedic and a volunteer firefighter from Sandy will be stationed at the Portland Water Bureau's Bull Run Watershed facility, ready to respond to any calls with the bureau's dedicated brush rig.
For the second half of the bridge closure, volunteers form Corbett Fire will respond to all calls.
In the unlikely event that there's a fire or a serious incident, Gresham Fire and Emergency Services would send mutual aid to Bull Run from Troutdale.
'For that one day, (the community) probably will have a lot quicker response than they normally have,' Corbett Assistant Fire Chief Brent Younker said.
The (big) plan
During the extended closure, Sandy Fire probably will have to set up a temporary substation on the north side of the bridge, camped out with an incident commander, some firefighters and an engine. They probably will use either Corbett's Gordon Creek Road substation or the Bull Run Watershed facility.
Most of the homes in the affected area are automatic mutual aid areas for the Corbett Fire Department, dispatched by Clackamas County at the same time as Sandy Fire.
It'll be the same as normal, 'We just won't have help coming from the Sandy side,' Younker said.
Other ideas include using LifeFlight for more non-trauma medical situations. A Clackamas AMR ambulance may be positioned in Troutdale to respond to any potential emergencies in Bull Run.
'We're still looking at a 15- to 20-minute run time for an ambulance,' Schneider said. 'We've got to have some kind of first responder.'
One of Schneider's main concerns is that when the big closure hits, two summer camps - Camp Namanu and Camp Howard - will be full, doubling the population of the affected area and creating greater possibility for a medical event.
He said if there's a bee sting that triggers an allergic reaction at Camp Howard or Camp Namanu, people need to be close enough to administer anaphylactic medicines to the patient.
August is also wildfire season.
Sandy Fire reports that the area hasn't been a big hotbed of activity for the fire district during the late summer.
A review of fire calls from the area reveals four calls in August 2004, and one call each during the same month in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
'But all it takes is one bad situation,' Schneider said. 'You've got to be prepared for it. We'll cross our fingers and hope things don't go crazy. We're working on it.'
For the daylong closure this weekend, Bell has a simple set of strategies.
'I won't go to Sandy; I'll go somewhere else,' he said, noting that it makes more sense to go to Troutdale for shopping and services than to make the 45-minute trip back up the mountain.
'Maybe I'll think twice about getting on the roof,' he jokingly added. 'I don't want to get too excited so I don't have a heart attack.'
The Bull Run area is going to be in constant upheaval this summer, from the draining of Roslyn Lake to the Revenue Bridge project to the Bull Run Bridge project to Portland General Electric's dismantling of its hydroelectric project flume, which will close roads around Roslyn Lake.
'Basically we have three projects, and it will be one thing or another on the whole north side (of the district) through summer and into fall,' said Phil Schneider, Sandy Fire deputy chief.
For the Revenue Bridge project, local residents also will have to deal with three still-unscheduled closures for the Revenue Bridge on Ten Eyck Road.
Crews will keep at least one lane of traffic open on the bridge during the entire repair process, except for a 48-hour period when they will move large steel beams with cranes - an unsafe condition for motorists - a 96-hour period when the existing bridge is demolished, and another 48-hour period when additional beams are set up for the new bridge.
Darrel Burnum, county bridge maintenance supervisor, says he thinks overlap is possible for the Bull Run and Revenue projects.
'We've been out here for years, and nobody does anything out here,' said Roger Bell, Bull Run Community Planning Organization president. 'But once they decide to do something, they hit all of our bridges.'