Housing up the hill causes flooding, erosion downhill

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Mike Meyer, the third generation of his family to live on property along the Tualatin River, says lax regulations have allowed runoff from development uphill on Bull Mountain to carve a canyon onto his land, eroding the landscape and pushing soil into the river. Mike Meyer couldn't believe his eyes one winter day five years ago, strolling on his property at the base of Bull Mountain, near Tigard. Where a small creek drains into the Tualatin River on his property, a mini-Grand Canyon had formed. It was about 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, 25 feet deep and growing — depositing an estimated 1,000 cubic yards of soil into the river.

Though a good part of Bull Mountain has been covered with subdivisions over the past 20 to 30 years — which means lots of concrete, roofs and other nonpervious surfaces — the usually shallow creek stayed inside its narrow, 5-foot-high banks on Meyer's property.

At least it did until the blow-out occurred.

Meyer and his family live on property that his great-great-grandfather purchased in 1881. He owns 25 of the original 40 acres, which contain bogs, wetlands, native flora and fauna, and habitats sometimes only found in protected areas. Now part of the land is being washed into the river due to erosion caused by the surging creek.

For decades the creek flowed through a 30-inch culvert under the road that winds through his property. Before Meyer built his house in 1991, he replaced the culvert with a 48-inch steel culvert. During the rainy winter season, he says, “the water pouring out is like a turbine at Bonneville Dam, and the creek is full.”

Since Meyer discovered the creek blow-out, he has pressed both Clean Water Services, the county sewer and storm management utility for the Tualatin River Watershed, and Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers, who represents the area, to do remediation work.

For five years he’s had little success.

Fault lines unclear

At the request of the King City Citizen Participation Organization more than two years ago, Clean Water Services contracted with HDR Engineering Inc. to conduct a hydrology and hydraulics study on two tributaries near the Rivermeade area and Meyer’s property, as part of the West Bull Mountain planning effort.

The intent was to establish baseline conditions and determine channel capacities within the two tributaries to better understand how previous development affected water flow. The study determined that the volume of water flow from Bull Mountain has increased 30 to 40 percent since 1980, with a 10 percent increase in peak flow.

The analysis also indicated there is inadequate channel capacity on the Meyer family’s property, according to Carrie Pak, Clean Water Services engineering division manager in the conveyance systems department.

“The undersized culvert at a private road crossing creates an additional stream restriction,” Pak wrote in an April 2010 letter to Meyer and others.

“The effective floodplain has been reduced over the years by farming activity and fill. However… there are no simple solutions to the situation that fall within the scope of the district's or county's maintenance or capital improvement programs.”

Pak went on to state that urbanization of Bull Mountain clearly increased the volume and velocity of the runoff reaching the Meyer property, but each development in the Bull Mountain area met the drainage standards in place at the time of development.

Those standards required each developer to perform an impact analysis for an area extending a quarter-mile downstream.

“Their standard is ridiculous,” Meyers contends. “They need to follow the water's impact all the way to the river, and they didn't do that. It is obvious that the water had an impact farther down the creek.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Mike MeyerBut Pak compares water runoff to traffic flow. If a big-box store comes into an area, she says, developers are responsible for improving the immediate transportation system, such as installing traffic signals and widening the streets to add lanes. But they aren't required to make improvements many blocks away, even if future customers will be driving on them.

Change comes too late

“If the standards are not sufficient,” Pak says, “then they need to be changed. We have since done more modeling and analyses, in part driven by Mr. Meyer's situation, and made some changes to our standards. However, there has not been a lot of new development since the new standards have been put in place.”

Meyer knows there is a lot of debris coming from above his property, as he regularly sees soccer balls and basketballs bobbing in the creek.

“What's frustrating to me is that money is spent on the infrastructure for development, but the downstream impact is ignored,” Meyer says. “And other parts of my property that used to be dry are now wet.”

Now Meyer and the utility are at an impasse. Clean Water Services asked Meyer for an easement on his property in the area of the creek washout, in order to do remediation work. Meyer has refused.

“CWS asked me if I would turn over a portion of my land to the public in return for work done to fix the damage,” Meyer explains. “I feel I'm a fairly good steward of the land, and I should not have to turn it over to someone to correct a problem that developed upstream. Whatever it was they proposed would have taken my rights of ownership away.”

If the utility proposed a conservation easement that didn't allow people to come onto his property at will, Meyer says he wouldn't be opposed.

While “everybody can feel for what he's going through,” Pak says, “we can't use public funds to address private property issues. If we get an easement, there may be potential for us to obtain additional funding sources. But we cannot use public funds without some type of control over the property.

“When we obtain an easement, it is for public control, not public access. Around the metro area there are, for example, retention ponds in developments, which are typical of the easements developers grant us. For us, it's an issue of jurisdiction.”

Meyer is concerned that an easement means he gives up property rights, and that may make it more difficult to sell his property.

He owns two 10-acre lots along the river, and could divide each into two lots. “If any acreage is 'taken,' this would preclude the division,” Meyer says. “I wouldn't necessarily sell, but with more generations of Meyers on the way, the big pieces keep getting smaller.”

Lawsuit next?

The utility also put the burden on him to find grants to pay for the improvements, Meyer says. “I say fix it.”

The two sides do not appear to be getting any closer to a resolution.

“Mother Nature doesn't want to be contained,” Pak says. “But personally, I think there are things we can work on together with Mr. Meyer, including working on grant applications. But we need an easement to do anything.”

Meyer says it’s the utility that isn’t being responsive. “They have not taken responsibility, so I am going to become much more direct on insisting that they take responsibility, and if they refuse, I will go down the legal path.”

Through an aide, Commissioner Rogers declined to respond to phone and email messages requesting his comments.

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