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City moves forward on Kane repairs

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULA - The 121-inch culvert under Kane Drive was installed in the 1960s when Mt. Hood Community College was built and Kane was widened. Though inspected regularly by the city of Gresham, an MHCC facilities director noticed water running under the culvert, instead of through it, last summer.The city of Gresham declared a State of Emergency following significant rains last week in hopes of getting federal and state aid to help with the cleanup.

The rain began on Dec. 7 and continued through Dec. 9, dumping 5.9 inches on the city in 72 hours. During the storm, flooding rain water overwhelmed a culvert on Kane Drive resulting in the collapse and closure of the road between Northeast 17th and 23rd streets. Additionally, there were sanitary sewer failures with sewage spilling into local waterways by the Ruby Junction MAX station and landslides within the city.

“At one time, we had eight roads closed in Gresham, including Hogan, because of high water,” said Steve Fancher, the city’s director of environmental services. “You can imagine the impact. We had used up all of our barricades, all of our message boards. We were maxed out with the city’s materials and personnel.”

The 121-inch Kane Drive culvert pipe was installed in the 1960s when Mt. Hood Community College was built and when Kane Drive was widened. The culvert was under the jurisdiction of Multnomah County until Kane Drive became a city road in 2006.

Fancher said the culvert was checked more than most pipes in the city, calling it a “key piece of infrastructure.”

A photo of the culvert taken this summer, Fancher says, shows it in “fairly good shape. We had no cause for alarm and no plans of doing any replacement.”

However, at a Mt. Hood Community College board meeting on Dec. 9, MHCC Vice President Rick Doughty said the college warned the city that the culvert may be malfunctioning last summer.

According to audio from that meeting, Doughty said a facilities director noticed water was running underneath the culvert rather than through it.

“They actually admitted that they did know that,” Doughty said. “Now they have inherited the consequences of knowing that you had water running underneath the culvert and not doing anything about it.”

Michael Calcagno, MHCC board member, said it worries him that there are conflicting stories about the Kane Drive culvert.

“Not only does this impact commuters with stressful and dangerous gridlock, not only does this take resources from Gresham police and firefighters, not only does this cause havoc for MHCC students, worst of all, the culvert collapse could have deadly consequences,” Calcagno said. “Thank God no one was hurt. Critical infrastructure is an essential function of government and must be a higher priority. What did the city know, when did they know it and why was nothing done?”

Elizabeth Coffey, spokeswoman for Gresham, said the city was aware that parts of the bottom of the culvert were rusted out, “but it wasn’t an issue of concern to us structurally and it wasn’t a factor in the road collapse.”

Fancher said that a large tree and root mass caused a blockage in the culvert which was the main factor to the culvert failing.

Coffey said the city did an inspection of the culvert in June and it was operating “fine” and the city checked it the morning of the storm - obviously before the blockage and eventual collapse - and “it appeared to be functioning as it should.”

As it stands now, the hole in the road created by the culvert collapse is roughly 120 feet long by 35 feet wide, or enough to fit 13 full-size school buses Fancher said.

The emergency declaration from the city will expedite the repair process, likely reducing the long-term cost impacts associated with the damages, Fancher said. The declaration also makes it more likely that the city will get reimbursements through the state and federal government.

The city will use its existing line of credit capacity for the Kane Drive repair and use money allotted for other projects.

Standard city practices will also be suspended in the process of hiring civil engineering consulting firms and construction contractors for the repairs.

The streets will be barricaded to prohibit vehicular and pedestrian traffic and regulate traffic on any street leading to or detouring around the emergency areas.

To help in the city’s application for federal funds, residents are asked to contact the city with reports and photos of significant damage to private property.

Gresham, in conjunction with Multnomah County and the state, is undertaking the first step to determine the eligibility to request a Major Disaster Declaration from the President.

As part of the process, the city will submit an assessment to the state of Oregon on both the public infrastructure damages as well as damages to private property. If damages that occurred throughout the county meet the required threshold of cost per capita, federal assistance may be available to offset eligible repair costs.

In order to represent an accurate representation of the total damages that occurred as a result of the storm, the city asks residents whose private property sustained significant damage between Dec. 7 and 8 to report to the city by Dec. 27

Residents can report via My Gresham at GreshamOregon.gov/MyGresham or by phone at 503-662-1308 and should include details such as property addresses, description of the damage and estimated repair cost. Photos of the damage are also encouraged.

If federal funding is granted, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will manage the allocation process. Having photos, repair receipts, and any other documents that describe or illustrate the damage to property will be very helpful should funding become available to individuals.

Fancher said a new culvert will be built under Kane Drive as safely, quickly and cost effective as possible.

“We have an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting this thing up and going,” Fancher said. “Every person in our crew has been notified that this project takes precedent.”