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Storms starting early in Columbia County

Heavy rains and high winds blasted the Pacific Northwest in the days before Thanksgiving, washing out one Columbia County road and triggering a landslide on another.

“We were lucky,” said Marsha Lopez, Oregon Department of Transportation manager for the ODOT office based in Clatskanie. “Usually when we get that much water that fast, we see a lot of slides.”

Instead, ODOT spent Nov. 18 and 19 dealing primarily with high water issues in the western area of Highway 30 near Woodson and plugged drains in St. Helens.

Scappoose saw over 3.74 inches of rain on Nov. 18 and 19, narrowly beating out coastal cities such as Astoria, which saw a combined total of 3.43 inches on those two days, according to data collected by the National Weather Service.

The storm washed out Holbrook Road in Rainier and caused a landslide on Palm Hill Road near Clatskanie, shutting it down completely.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, a little bit of rain. No big deal,’ but it is a big deal for us,” said David Hill, director of the Columbia County Roads Department which oversees the county’s 542 miles of roadway.

He estimated it could cost the county close to $40,000 to repair Holbrook Road, the work complicated because of a nearby stream, and $25,000 to clear debris off Palm Hill Road.

“It’s getting an early start,” Hill said. “To have this much of an issue before December, that is not normal.”

Typically, road troubles begin in January and February when the cold weather begins in earnest and the ground and hillsides are “super saturated with heavy rains,” Hill said.

“We did dodge a bullet, barely,” said County Commissioner Tony Hyde at a commissioner meeting Nov. 21.

The commissioners said the stormy weather gave them an opportunity to “dust off” the county’s emergency plans.

Across the county, people were dealing with high water warnings and flooded roads, fields and backyards.

“It’s the nature of the area we live in,” Lopez said. “The soil, the water, the storms, the trees.”