Linn and Benton counties each declared emergencies on Thursday due to recent flooding, which would allow them to assess damage and calculate estimated losses for possible state or federal relief funds.
In Linn County, Board Chairman Roger Nyquist and Commissioner Will Tucker held a special meeting. Commissioner John Lindsey was not present.
“The good news is that to our knowledge, there has not been any loss of life,” Nyquist said. “This also reminds us of how interconnected we are in the mid-valley in terms of residents traveling to and from their places of employment. When a major highway is turned into a river, it seriously affects traffic flow for all of us.”
For two days, Highway 34 has been closed near the Linn and Benton county line, forcing traffic onto Highway 20 and clogging Albany streets for hours at morning and afternoon rush hours.
Joe Larsen of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office told the commissioners information gathered on damage and losses will be submitted to the state of Oregon and possibly on to the federal level if a national disaster is made for Oregon.
Robert Wheeldon, director of the Linn County Planning and Building Department, said the county’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan is up to date and that will allow the county to be considered for FEMA funding.
Linn County Assessor Andy Stevens reminded the commissioners that, like the flood of ’96, county residents will be able to have their current taxes pro-rated or to have their properties re-assessed because the incident “is an act of God.”
“We are encouraging anyone with property damage to contact our office as soon as possible,” Stevens said.
The public can contact the Assessor’s Office at 541-967-3808.
Wayne Mink of the Linn County Road Department, said staff had completed its annual survey of bridges before the event and will now have to take another look.
Mink said flooding is appearing in places where it hasn’t in past years.
He said the county staff will surely have a lot of debris clean up once flood waters recede.
Nyquist said both the Road Department and Sheriff’s Office, “have done a very good job getting out in front of this.”
Linn County has closed Waterloo County Park due to the potential for high water to cover the road into the parking lot area, Parks Director Brian Carroll said later Thursday morning.
Carroll said the county could not take the risk of having campers trapped if the South Santiam River water level crested at the point the road would be covered overnight.
He is also concerned that docks at both Foster and Green Peter reservoirs may have been damaged due to high-water levels. He said the floats may have been pushed beyond their usable stop marks.
Carroll is also concerned about the amount of debris in the reservoirs. There is a large amount of debris at the boom that protects Foster Dam.
Carroll said the Corps of Engineers usually keeps that area clear of debris, but in the past, Linn County has partnered with the city of Sweet Home to sweep other parts of the reservoir to make it safer for boaters during the summer recreation season.
The Corps usually keeps the water level in Foster Reservoir up near full pool by the Memorial Day weekend, but recent rains have filled what had been depleted water levels. Carroll said he doesn’t know how the Corps will mitigate the water level after the current weather issue subsides.
It’s possible the water levels will have to be decreased to make room for the possibility of more spring storms.
In Benton County, Commissioners Annabelle Jaramillo, Pat Malone and Xan Augerot signed the declaration because of flooding caused by days of heavy rains and water releases from Dorena Dam, according to a statement from the county announcing the declaration.
The declaration empowers Sheriff Scott Jackson to take the lead in coordinating emergency response activities.
Flooding has closed a number of roads around the county, including Highway 34, one of the main routes in and out of Corvallis, leaving people in some areas isolated and vulnerable.
An emergency operations center has been set up by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Corvallis Police Department, Benton County Public Works Department and Corvallis Fire Department to monitor the situation and coordinate resources.
Residents are being cautioned to avoid flooded areas and not to attempt to cross roads covered by high water, either on foot or in a vehicle.
It’s easy to underestimate the hazards a flood can create, said David Busby, emergency planning manager for the Corvallis Fire Department. Moving water is a powerful force, and floods can pick up and spread a toxic brew of raw sewage, agricultural chemicals and industrial waste.
“Floodwaters are a lot more dangerous than people realize – not just the strength of the water, but there’s a lot of stuff in the water that’s just not healthy,” Busby said. “The bottom line is, don’t play in the water.”
A number of people have had to be rescued from flooded areas in and around Monroe, Kiger Island and downtown Corvallis, while call volume has doubled at the 911 dispatch center.
Updated information on road conditions is available online at www.tripcheck.com for state highways and www.co.benton.or.us for local roads. Information is also available by calling the Benton County Public Works Department at 541-766-6821.
Another reason for the disaster declaration was to put the county and its municipalities in position for relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Benton County spokeswoman Lili’a Uili Neville said.
“We are wanting to be eligible for any funding to repair infrastructure” damaged by the flood, Neville told the Gazette-Times.
“We are still monitoring all the impacts to the community,” added Busby.
“Now it becomes a data-collection effort so we know exactly how much the city and the county have expended – and it has to be related directly to the flood.”
Busby said that information will be passed along to the state and will ultimately be forwarded to FEMA for consideration. If overall damage from the flood in affected Oregon counties rises above the minimum threshold of $6 million, the state should qualify for federal money to reimburse county and city governments for damage repairs.
“That (FEMA) declaration can take anywhere from a month to a month and a half,” Busby said.