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Swollen Columbia River gives rise to safety concerns

Emergency management planners and responders are monitoring the swollen Columbia River for trouble, even though expectation is the mix of heavy rains, snowmelt and reservoir releases will not cause serious problems.

In some cases emergency personnel just want to get the word out to recreational boaters and fishermen headed into the Memorial Day weekend to be extra cautious.

'Water is running very swift and there's lots of debris,' said Chris Lake, division chief for Scappoose Rural Fire Protection District. On Friday fire district personnel used the fireboat to pull a man from the water at the Coon Island dock after he had misjudged the distance between his boat and the dock and fell into the water. A witness provided CPR, Lake said, and first responders from the fire district transported him to shore via the fireboat, where he was then taken to a hospital.

Also, a Cornelius man, Jeffrey Wade Ferguson, 51, who has been missing since Friday after he had been fishing on the Multnomah Channel, still hasn't been found.

As of Tuesday, water levels in the Columbia River near St. Helens were running 13.6 feet. Flood stage at St. Helens is 17 feet, said Steve Barton, chief of the reservoir control for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Though wet weather has been forecasts through the Memorial Day weekend, Barton said he doesn't expect the river to rise to more than 14.5 feet near St. Helens.

Barton said peak snow melt runoff doesn't hit until mid-June, and he said it's likely the Columbia River will run near or at this level through the peak season.

Columbia River water level at the Vancouver, Wash., measuring point on Tuesday morning was at 15.9 feet, with flood stage being 16 feet, Barton said. Other than low-lying areas in Vancouver, he said it is doubtful there would be significant flooding short of the river running at 18 feet.

At that stage, flooding in low-elevation agricultural areas on Sauvie Island would be apparent, he said.