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MHCC working to clean up its water act, seeks 'Salmon Safe' designation


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Eight people helping Mt. Hood Community College earn a Salmon Safe certification tour Kelly Creek at the south edge of the MHCC campus. They include, from left to right, Kathy Shearin of the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District; Troy Builta, sustainability coordinator for MHCC; Russ Johnson, MHCCs associate director of facilities; Rick Doughty, MHCC vice president of administration; Charles George, MHCCs facilities director; Torrey Lindbo of the city of Gresham; Jay Udelhoven, soil and water district executive director; and Steve Wise of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council. Mt. Hood Community College is seeking an environmental designation for its 212-acre campus that would set in motion a broad, five-year watershed renovation program.

By the spring, MHCC hopes to become the first Salmon Safe community college in Oregon and the first in Gresham.

Salmon Safe is a Portland-based organization that certifies farms, businesses and organizations when they adhere to a strict set of environmentally-friendly practices to protect streams and watersheds.

To get the certification, MHCC must use the best practices in storm water management, pest control, erosion and sediment control, water conservation and irrigation, stream and stream-bank habitat and wetlands management and design guidelines for future development.

“We’re not putting a ton of money into this,” said Charles George, MHCC’s facilities director. “It is more about a commitment to do the right thing on an ongoing basis. We’re going to be a little bit better every year.”

The December collapse of Kane Road and MHCC’s $125 million bond going to voters in May represent big opportunities for the watershed effort, George said.

MHCC’s Salmon-Safe designation is “the right thing to do for nature and for the community,” George said. “We’re already doing a lot of the important things.”

MHCC is a key component to the well being of the Sandy River watershed. About 1 1/2 miles of Beaver and Kelly creeks run through the campus before merging and flowing into the Sandy River.

“Almost one in 10 juvenile fish in the Sandy basin use Beaver Creek. That’s remarkable,” said Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council.

The cave-in of Kane Road was caused by the failure of a culvert in Kelly Creek, which flows under the road. “That was Kelly Creek rising up to reclaim its riverbed,” said Wise.

The watershed council, an environmental nonprofit organization located on the MHCC campus, is working with the college on the habitat and water quality improvement project.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The collapse of the Kane Road culvert and its replacement represent a great opportunity to gain Salmon Safe status, according to college officials.The December culvert collapse “is an opportunity for the city to re-examine how they deal with Kelly Creek,” Wise said.

If approved, MHCC’s bond gives the college another opportunity to improve the campus’s environment.

The college was built in the 1960s when environmental concerns were not a big priority.

Any new construction or renovations could be done with watershed improvements in mind.

“We will be able to build to current sustainable standards with storm water compliance, bioswales, etc.,” George said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The portion of Kelly Creek that traverses the Mt. Hood Community College campus is remarkably scenic and goes virtually unnoticed in its secluded wooded setting. The creek connects with Beaver Creek and then the Sandy River, with its sizable run of salmon and steelhead. The school is considering ways to restore free flow to Kelly Creek, which could mean altering its popular pond created by a dam.

The pond is not polluted, George said, but the culvert collapse sent silt, debris and asphalt chunks into the pond, which need to be cleaned up.

Wise said it is also important to protect or improve MHCC’s tree canopy to help keep the creeks cool.

Replacing thirsty decorative shrubs and plants with native species would save on irrigation.

Some of the blacktop and cement in parking lots, walkways and plazas could be replaced with permeable pavement and rain gardens to reduce chemical runoff and cool the water passing into the streams, Wise said.

Many campus buildings have flat roofs, which could be turned into roofs with plants.

These projects could be done as regular maintenance is performed and also funded with grants.

There also could be academic benefits to projects by involving students from various disciplines in any renovations.

“There is smaller stuff we can do, small low-hanging fruit projects,” George said. “I don’t have a lot of money, but others are also willing to put money in. We’ll have all these teams making improvements around the college.”

The college hopes to involve the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the city of Gresham, Metro, and Intel to complete some projects. Salmon Safe Executive Director Dan Ken said the group does not discuss specific sites until they are certified.

George is a veteran of the Salmon Safe process, having worked on it at his prior job at Nike. In addition to Nike, MHCC would join Salmon-Safe certified Portland State University, Hopworks Urban Brewery and others.

“It is amazing the level of cooperation and enthusiasm,” Wise said. “It is a confluence of creeks and a confluence of people and institutions.”