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City considers salmon in Kane repair solution

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A December culvert washout caused by a flooded Kelly Creek severed Kane Drive near its intersection with Northeast 23rd Street. Now, city officials expect the damaged road to be reopened to traffic by the end of January. As the city of Gresham prepares to re-open Kane Drive with a temporary fix of two culverts to replace one that collapsed during the deluge-like Dec. 7 rainstorm, the question remains of what a permanent solution will look like.

While Gresham is the driving force behind the design of a permanent solution, the city is also at the mercy of other agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from which permits are required to do the work.

Luckily for the 30,000 or so drivers who were displaced by the washout, the asphalt is just about ready to be poured above the new culverts on Kane Drive so the busy road can be opened temporarily.

Crews have worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to re-open the four-lane thoroughfare as quickly as possible, said Steve Fancher, director of environmental services for the city. In place of the 112-inch collapsed steel culvert that was installed in 1967, the city installed two new 72-inch steel culverts.

“We’re continuing to bring the gravel up to the grade of the street and compacting it and making sure it’s a nice solid foundation,” Fancher said. “We’re hoping to pave it next week, and once the paving is done, there is a bit of striping work. Once all of these details are done, we’re going to open the road.”

City officials are calling the storm, which dumped nearly seven inches of rain on Gresham from Dec. 7-9, a once-in-100-year event. Though the culvert under Kane Drive had been in good shape, a tree got lodged in the culvert during the storm causing Kelly Creek’s rushing waters to bypass the culvert and undermine the roadway.

“From the watershed perspective, it was an impressive show of what a river would do if it were operating naturally,” said Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council. “I may be one of the few people that believes what happened there is magnificent in the way of showing what the creek wants to be.”

Salmon situation

Wise is invested in a permanent solution for Kane Drive because of a project he’s doing with Mt. Hood Community College to develop a five-year plan to improve the habitat and water quality of the Gresham campus.

One issue in the plan is a campus pond formed by a dam on Kelly Creek. Though the pond provides a visual amenity and an attraction for anglers, Wise said still water is harmful to the endangered salmon population because it heats up faster than flowing water — and the temperature can be lethal.

There are no salmon in Kelly Creek. There could be, however, because of the presence of salmon in Beaver Creek, which Kelly Creek flows into. Beaver Creek flows into the Sandy River, where the salmon spawn, linking the Sandy with Kelly Creek.

“The pond has only been there since the campus was built in 1965,” Wise said, noting that the dam also blocks what could be a passage for the fish. “Ecologically we know that the pond is a really serious disturbance to the conditions of the creek.”

One of the things the five-year MHCC fish plan could include is removing the dam and returning Kelly Creek to its natural state.

“We’re not sure at this time whether or not the culvert crossing will be required to be fish passable,” Fancher said. “The pond itself and the dam both contribute to the blockage of native fish species being able to move through the creek.”

If the city designs a “fish-passable” culvert, it would need be larger and wider, Fancher noted. The city is also considering at open-bottom or natural-bottom culvert that would serve more as a bridge for Kane Drive.

“There’s hybrid options that are definitely on the table. The difference between a culvert and a bridge starts to get blended when you look at open-bottom culverts,” Fancher said. “There’s a good chance we’ll look at something like that.”

Another option is a pipe that would have a gravel floor, so it simulates a natural creek.

“We’ll push for the most cost effective, safe solution for the public and then (consider) fish passage,” Fancher said.

Summer repairs

The city considered doing just one repair project instead of starting with a temporary fix, but wanted to get the road open as quickly and safely as possible to alleviate traffic problems the closure has caused, Fancher said.

The more permanent repairs would likely be implemented this summer, when Kelly Creek will be at its lowest level and fewer students will be on the Mt. Hood campus.

Fancher said two lanes of Kane Drive would remain open when construction gets underway.

“The number one consideration is just making sure that it’s safe for the public, and part of that is coming up with the right design so it’s large enough to pass the flows from the creek and not get plugged up (and is) structurally stable so we don’t have any kind of cracking in the road in the future,” Fancher said. “It’s been a very tragic kind of catastrophic event there, and one that we hope never happens again.”