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Governor brings in reinforcements to help shore up Columbia River levee

The tiny Multnomah County Drainage District is going to get some help figuring out how to strengthen the Portland area’s levee system, which keeps the area south of the Columbia River from being deluged by the river.

The 14-employee drainage district faces a federal mandate to recertify the levee system’s safety, under rules that got much stricter after Hurricane Katrina. Among other challenges, the federal government views Marine Drive — built atop the levee — as an encroachment that could compromise levee safety, along with hundreds of buildings, trees, utility poles and other things allowed on the levee over the years.

The drainage district, which calculates the project could cost $100 million to $200 million, called for reinforcements, and Gov. John Kitzhaber responded. Kitzhaber designated the levee recertification a collaborative project to be led by Oregon Solutions.

Oregon Solutions, first created by Kitzhaber back in 2001 and now based at Portland State University, brings together public, private and other leaders to hammer out creative solutions to pressing challenges.

“I think the Oregon Solutions process is a very strong one and it helps the community own the decision, as opposed to just one agency,” says Reed Wagner, executive director of the drainage district.

The district represents more than 2,000 landowners, whose properties cover 12,000 acres of land. The biggest entity there is Portland International Airport, run by the Port of Portland.

Getting the project named as an Oregon Solutions initiative means there’s a shared understanding the improvements will be too costly for the drainage district and its members to manage and pay for on their own.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chair Marissa Madrigal will convene the Oregon Solutions collaboration, a sign that the effort will require help from multiple layers of government.

Similar projects elsewhere around the country have cost $10 million to $11 million per mile of levee, Wagner says. The main levee south of the Columbia River is 18.5 miles long.

The first order of business for the Oregon Solutions collaboration is to gain agreement on the improvements that will be needed along the levee, and the associated costs. Then the group will seek some sort of cost-sharing solution.

The project is expected to last until next fall.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.